Note: Like most of my movie reviews, this one is primarily intended for readers of the source material and analyzes the movie as an adaptation rather than an independent work.
Deep in the sewers of Derry, Maine, lurks the insidious It, an ancient, shapeshifting evil that poisons the minds of the locals, feeds on fear and children, and often takes the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Following only the past timeline of the novel, seven kids, all self-confessed losers in various ways, must come together to defeat It and protect others like themselves.
While the use of fairytale logic and the power of belief won’t bother fans, a single line of exposition would have been polite to help newcomers understand certain tactics the kids use against Pennywise as magic rather than continuity errors.
As could be easily feared and expected, the character of Mike comes off as a bit of a peripheral afterthought, which was often the case in the book, but made worse here by the transfer of the historian role to Ben. Meanwhile, the circumstances of the finale are oversimplified by the patently lazy damseling of Beverly in a way that was not in the book, although it must be noted that some much more extraordinary ill-use of Beverly was in the book, and is thankfully removed here.
An attempt is made to give her some dignity even in her damsel function, by having her resist Pennywise’s fear-inducement powers, but this only serves to muddy the heroism of the losers, by implying that an absence of fear is necessary to defeat It, rather than the willingness to do so in spite of their obvious fear, which is what makes the whole group of them so easy to root for most of the time.
This change to the structure of the finale also removes some of the purpose of Henry Bowers, the lead bully character who’s given just enough focus and development to make his ultimate insignificance (at least within this volume) disappointing.
As can be said for all the best Stephen King adaptations, this one makes the absolute most of its scares, while taking the best of the underlying framework of the characters and breathing life into them.
The performances of all the young actors are stellar and amazingly natural. When not being paralyzed by the Deadlights, Beverly oozes every ounce of cool she’s supposed to, mixed with all the world-weary vulnerability and, yes, fear that’s forced her to become that cool. The friendship of the whole losers’ club feels vividly authentic, and with the wise removal of any explicit mentions of cosmic forces compelling them to follow the group, follow the leader, follow the plot, their bond is forced to form and sustain itself on an entirely human level. They’re given the freedom to fight and disagree and determine for themselves that they still need each other.
Without that cosmic bestowing of unquestioned authority upon Bill, his leadership is made to stand on its own, and (who’d have guessed it?) it does. His relationship with his lost brother is played up to a heart-wrenching degree instead of simply stated, adding weight to everything he does. He’s even allowed to be wrong, prioritizing his revenge story over his friends, and he’s all the more likeable for his fallibility.
And then there’s Pennywise himself.
This Pennywise doesn’t spend the course of the movie idly threatening and taunting and waiting for his moment. This Pennywise is an unrelenting onslaught of world-warping terror. He’s powerful in his use of the kids’ specific fears, but also as a creature of darkness beyond charted reality.
The jumpscares are sparing but perfectly timed, and taken far beyond the usual startle that’s over before it starts. If you’re not scared by a loud music sting, don’t worry, that’s only the tip of the iceberg of screams you’re hurtling into.
Altogether a terrifying, heartfelt, and quite reverent adaptation given the time allotted, and a seasonal must-see for fans of both the book and horror movies in general.
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