Retro Relevant: Stephen King’s IT (2017)

In science, math is the universal language. It’s understood and shared by all races and creeds despite cultural and language barriers. There are some other universals, like music, love, and all the other things that transcend age, gender, and location in the world. In cinema, the universal language is horror. As a genre, it doesn’t get the flashy award nominations and it will never be accepted as artistic as the other forms of film. But, what it lacks in red carpet appeal and accolades, it makes up for in box office draw, scares that leave an impact decades later, and the ability to make a grown, sensible person, shrink back in their seat, struggling to catch their breath as the tension rises. All of the brings me to one of 2017’s most anticipated films, IT.

Let’s face it. Stephen King’s brilliant writing has not always had the best representations on the silver screen. For every amazing adaptation like The Mist, Shawshank Redemption, and Stand By Me, you get others that trounce about in a fog without any real direction. Even Stanley Kubrick’s surreal take on The Shining is wrapped in controversy and arguments to this day. So, where in this grand scale of Stephen King adaptations does the latest take on IT stand? Firmly near the top, that’s where.

Before I dig any deeper, you’re going to get the purists that are going to argue about the changing of the time frame in the film (this version takes place in the late 80’s), or that certain characters aren’t exactly the same as they were in the book, or that their favorite scenes were left out. Here’s my take on it. The book is as thick as your grandmother’s coffee table bible. It would make George R.R. Martin blush and take him 25 years to write. There’s no way you’re going to shove all of that into one movie (or even two as the anticipated sequel is now in production). Plus, the creative decision to move the film into the 1980’s totally works. It also sets us up for the sequel to take place in the here and now as the adult version of the children come back to fight Pennywise once again. Don’t let nit-picky issues overshadow the amazing work done here.

Okay, now with all of the good. First up…the casting was nigh perfection. Each of the kids were better cast in the film than they were in the production that took place in my head as I read the book. Who steals the show? Well, first of all, Bill Skarsgård. He is playing what has to be one of the famous clowns of all time, a role that has already been played by Tim Curry in his revered performance. He truly makes the character his own and you feel the unease of the film ripen each time he appears on screen. It’s a role that could easily go wrong and it relies a great deal on facial expressions and nuance. The second star of this film is Finn Wolfhard (who you certainly know as Mike Wheeler in Stranger Things). His take on the wisecracking Richie Tozier makes IT one of the funniest films I saw all year, and that wasn’t something I was expecting. Beyond that, his comic relief is much needed in a film where a vampire that feeds off of fear is preying on children. All of that said, their performances wouldn’t mean anything if it wasn’t for the rest of the cast. Everyone pulls their weight and you FEEL for them, even the awful, villainous ones. This buy in is critical and IT succeeds on every level.

As a horror film, IT is by no means the scariest (though it has some truly horrifying scenes)…nor is it the bloodiest (though it’s pretty darn bloody), but where it shines is the overall experience. Like Stand By Me, The Goonies, ET, The Sandlot, and more recent films like Super 8 or Stranger Things on television, IT succeeds at bringing you in as part of the group. You find yourself as an unspoken member of the Loser’s Club, experiencing the same traumatic events and laughing at all the same jokes. That’s why it’s no surprise to me that it broke the all time box office record for September (and the month isn’t even over yet)…it’s because word of mouth is so strong! It’s an experience you want to share, even though it’s scary, and even though it’s dangerous…it’s worth it. Kudos to director Andy Muschietti, and his guiding hand through it all.

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