After I first saw the trailer for IT the film became my most anticipated trip to the cinema this year. I read Stephen King’s source novel over a summer as idyllic as the one portrayed in the story and IT’s 1400 pages seemed to fly. The book laid the foundations for my love of Horror cinema which would develop over the next few years. I was, then, naturally excited to see King’s seminal novel on the big screen.
IT tells the story of a group of children who are plagued by a shape-shifting creature who primarily identifies as Pennywise, the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard). One of the young boys, Ben (Jeremy Taylor), discovers that the same entity has been haunting their home town Derry every 27 years since its founding in the 19th century. This new period of Pennywise’s tormenting of the town begins when little Georgie Denborough is lured into It’s clutches after losing his toy boat in a storm drain. The violence of this first attack is shocking and sets the tone for the subsequent encounters with It’s different incarnations.
The film succeeds and comes short in the same ways that Stephen King’s novel does. The characters are well drawn and the child-actors perform very well. Among the losers club, it is Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard as Richie and Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie who stand out thanks to their quick-fire arguments. The revelation is Jackson Scott who is extremely precocious as seven-year-old Georgie. The film improves on the book by never losing sight of the death of Georgie as the story’s impetus and the desperate sadness of his older brother, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), is the film’s heart.
Bill Skarsgard is at times terrifying as Pennywise but the film and the book suffer from the character’s lack of backstory. IT visually references A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and it would improve the former if Pennywise could have the sordid origins of Freddy Krueger to help interpret the entity and it’s fixation on these particular children. Without that, the climax in the sewers is rendered as an answer to the question: How many children does it take to beat up a clown?
Perhaps this will be resolved in IT: Chapter Two, which is teased in the end credits. I certainly enjoyed IT enough to be as excited for the second film as I was for the first.