Film Review | It

Muschetti’s adaptation of the King novel breaks exactly zero new ground and relies far too much on cheap jump scare • 3/5

'Want your boat, Georgie?' Bill Skarsgard takes on the iconic scene in Andy Muschietti's latest version of the 1986 Stephen King novel
'Want your boat, Georgie?' Bill Skarsgard takes on the iconic scene in Andy Muschietti's latest version of the 1986 Stephen King novel

When it comes to the depressingly frequent case of big budget movie remakes, the first thing a prospective audience is forced to ask – because, sadly, the studios in question don’t seem to bother – is, “What’s the point?” Can a remake actually justify its existence as a worthwhile piece of entertainment – let’s not even think about the ‘art’ involved, we have to give up on that – beyond the exigences of the bottom line? Beyond the fact that they’re churned out because studios don’t want to take a risk on anything beyond what’s safely recognisable; reasoning that what worked in the past is bound to work once again (right?! Right). 

And nowhere is this more readily evident than with horror movies. A staple of every studio around the world, ‘horrors’ they tend to be relatively cheap to make and operate on a ‘stimulus-response’ dynamic whose immediacy is only matched by either fairy tales, or porn. And given this, I’d argue that the genre can make us look at remakes in a kinder light. After all, horror offers manifestations of extreme but primordial fears that are as potent on a smartphone screen as they were by the neanderthal campfire. 

The question is, can director Andy Muschietti’s IT – adapted from the 1986 Stephen King novel of the same name, which was in turn adapted into a now-creaky-looking Tim Curry TV series that terrified a generation after it aired in 1990 – plug into that same fount of the horrific sublime?

On a stormy October day in 1988, a little boy named George (Jackson Robert Scott) follows the instructions of his convalescing brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) and sends a little paper boat out to float on a rainy street. George subsequently goes missing, with no answers forthcoming to the guilt-racked Bill and his bereaved family and the rest of the town as the kidnappings just keep on piling up. 

But we know something that they don’t. Namely, we know that Georgie did float away, but not on the wind or on some random stranger’s dusky pickup truck. No, George was whisked away through the sewers by a demonic force in a clown suit calling itself Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård). An entity that has since appeared to Bill and his friends in various guises that reflect their deepest fears. The bullied and outcast rag-tag team – who call themselves The Losers Club – made up of Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Stan (Wyatt Oleff), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Mike (Chosen Jacobs) have no choice but to band together to somehow defeat ‘It’ before it devours all of them.       

Eschewing the inter-cutting storyline of both King’s novel and the ‘90s TV adaptation, Muschietti’s film – co-written by the project’s former director-to-be Cary Fukunaga, Chase Palmer and Gary Dauberman – decides to focus on the kids’ story first, leaving the adult segment of King’s time-hopping story for the sequel (which has since been greenlit). The first thing that this accomplishes – something that is also facilitated by moving the action forward from the original’s late-50s to a late-80s setting – is to create a vibe that today’s kids will associate with the recent Netflix binge-friendly pastiche, Stranger Things, but which to us older folk will recall other classics like The Goonies (1985), ET (1982) and that other King adaptation, Stand By Me (1986). (Casting Stranger Things’s protagonist Finn Wolfhard as the group’s potty-mouthed and bullshitting braggart Richie is another inspired move on Muschietti’s part). 

Filling in the horror bits with some refreshingly athletic moves from Skarsgård’s Pennywise (whose costume design is more demented Renaissance courtier rather than psychotic circus clown) and, sadly, an over-reliance on jump scares, the rest of the film is allowed to be the kind of heartening bonding exercise we’re used to seeing from the two Steves – that’s King and Spielberg – and which speaks to the vintage suburban camaraderie among kids that they’ve elevated to the status of bona fide American myth. 

And the suggestion of child abuse aside – particularly in the case of Beverly, served very well by a notable performance from the promising Sophia Lillis – it looks as though the upcoming Chapter Two will be on hand to offer up the true horrors.

Deftly capitalizing on 80s nostalgia – as powered by phenomena like Netflix’s Stranger Things – Muschetti’s adaptation of the King novel breaks exactly zero new ground and relies far too much on cheap jump scares. But it also delivers up on its enduringly chilling premise with gusto and a real sense of grisly fun. This is one horror franchise you won’t mind returning to, and that is bound to cross generational lines with relative ease. Roll on chapter two...