It hasn’t been publicly stated in as many words that they intend to make a sequel to this movie, but it’s telling that “It” concentrates on the stories of The Losers in their childhood incarnations. Producer Dan Lin has talked about doing a subsequent film about their battle with Pennywise as adults, but nothing’s presumably set in stone until the box office receipts have started to come in.
The script – by Gary Dauberman from the original script by Cary Fukunaga after the latter jumped ship from the project – does the same thing King did in the novel, setting the childhood portion of the story back a couple of decades. it’s in the late 1980s instead of the 1960s, giving the story the kind of rosy-tinted nostalgia about childhood Amblin used to specialise in and that we’re all familiar with either from our own lives or pop culture – the creepy house everyone thinks is haunted, riding bikes around with your friends, the small-town Americana setting, etc.
Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), sick in bed one rainy day, makes his little brother George a newspaper sailing boat, and when George goes outside to play it reintroduces one of the scariest villains in film or literary history.
Chasing the ship down a swollen storm drain, George meets Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), a creature whose origins and reason for being is never fully explained but who feeds off the fear (and flesh) of kids. When Pennywise attacks George it’s far gorier and more shocking than the 1990 TV miniseries could ever be, and director Andy Muschietti (Mama) seems to be assuring us that neither he nor New Line Cinema are interested chasing a toned down PG rating.
A couple of years later, Bill has gone through his grieving process and watched his family fracture, keeping his head down, hanging out with friends Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Stan (Wyatt Oleff) and Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), trying to stay out of the way of local bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) but quietly convinced he can find out what happened to his brother.
But as more kids go missing, the guys realise they have other kindred spirits in town. One is Beverly (Sophia Lillis), who doesn’t fit in with the other girls and who faces her own demons in the shape of her father. Another is Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), new to town and who loves nothing more than time in the library to himself. And there’s Mike (Chosen Jacobs), from one of the few black families in Derry and who’s also on the wrong end of Henry Bowers.
As the adults in their lives veer between absent and abusive, the gang find themselves targeted by Pennywise, having not only to wait until the next moment he’s going to burst out of a dark shadow, bathroom sink or (in the film’s scariest moment), slide projector screen, but realising they’re the ones who have to battle the ancient evil haunting their town.
The themes around the parents was certainly touched on in King’s book but glossed over in the 1990 telemovie, the parents mostly just shadows in the background. But here the mistreatment of children by adults is explored far more deeply. Whether it’s the sudden resentment of Bill by his parents because all he does is remind them of their dead son or Beverly’s supremely creepy father (his demeanour seemingly just a hint of the depths of his depravity towards her), it’s almost like Pennywise is a metaphor.
Whether they ignore their children or sexually molest them, the adults in the lives of The Losers are almost the real villains, either leaving them to deal with the horrors of the world (a literal monster, in this case) alone, or representing those horrors.
The chemistry between the young performers will remind you of one of the best things about “Stranger Things”, and not just because of Finn Wolfhard as Richie in the cast, either. The set-up and premise has a charm that’s nostalic in itself (anotehr great example was “Super 8”), and even though the performances aren’t perfect you’ll throw your emotional lot in with the young heroes from the get go.
That taken care of, all Muscietti has to do beyond it is make “It” scary, and he succeeds. There’s no grand plan to reinvent the wheel in the design or behaviour of Pennywise, and with no clear cut rules about what he really is or what constrains him, Muscietti is free to wrangle anything the script has dreamt up, whether it’s a headless boy terrorising Ben in the library basement or Pennywise himself bursting from any number of conveniently dark corners.
All in all it’s one of the good Stephen King adaptations in a world where so many of them are so bad. In being so, it also does nothing to end our collective befuddlement about just what makes a good King adaptation when there have been so many turkeys like the recent adaptation of his movie “Cell”.