The 1990 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “It” was a forgettable 192-minute miniseries. The director of throwaway horror flick “Mama,” Andy Muscheitti re-envisions the cult classic along with a variety of screenwriters, including Cary Fukunaga (“Beasts of No Nation”) who was originally selected as the director. Putting aside the more dramatic cinematic adaptations of King, “It” is one of the better looking of his horror incarnations. Embracing the R-rating allows the dark and terrifying story into new territory. Children having body parts eaten, parental rape, hard core bullying and loads of violence all involving minors are all far scarier things than the iconic clown image. The cinematography and overall production value really draw the viewer in to this disturbing town.
Derry, Maine, in the late 1980s, has six times more disappearances than the national average. It’s even worse for children, as Bill Denbrough (Lieberher) learned from the disappearance of his younger brother, Georgie. It’s been a year, and Bill can’t stop thinking he will find his brother trapped in the sewer system from where he disappeared. As other children around the town start to vanish, Bill and his loser gang of friends, start doing their own investigating. Each teenager admits to having realistic, terrifying visions of their worst fear, but the thing they all have in common is seeing frightening clown Pennywise (Skarsgard). “New Kid” Ben (Taylor) discovers a curse that falls on Derry every 27-years. While most students are having fun on summer break, this group of friends will face the most terrifying weeks of their lives.
Fukunaga’s version of the film was both vastly darker than the TV rendition and the version we see here. Adhering more to King’s disturbing and graphic novel that includes a 12-year-old orgy, Fukunaga parted ways with the project. Hardcore horror fans who love this stuff will be pleased with the result, especially that such a controversial project is getting such a big screen marketing treatment, even playing on IMAX. King himself highly approves of the adaptation, which he calls one of his most personal projects. This film isn’t for the easily scared, but will serve as an endurance test for many. It goes far beyond cheap horror-movie jump scares. The opening scene with the iconic sewer gate sequence, is the film’s most traumatic and artistic, the remainder of the movie struggles to match it’s disturbing simplicity.
Lieberher (“The Book of Henry,” “Midnight Special”) continues to excel and elevate young acting performances. Newcomer Sophia Lillis steals the show among the teenage performances, which all have specific beats that work for the film whether comedic, charming, despicable or heroic. There are a few really bad minor supporting performances (i.e. Will’s father), but they don’t have enough screen time to cause much distraction. The length of the film is still an issue, even with the amount of content omitted from the novel. There is so much going on in this town that it’s a struggle to get everything in an acceptable running time. After so many horrible visions, failed rescues and violent episodes, the narrative becomes redundant. There isn’t much depth to the story beyond children facing fears in the worst feasible way, yet is easily the year’s most prolific horror flick.
Final thought — Stephen King’s twisted novel gets the epic big screen treatment, but still lacks a lot of depth in the narrative.