It Review: The Stranger Things Get, the Better
It review: Director Andy Muschetti channels a little bit of Netflix’s Stranger Things in a strong adaptation of Stephen King’s It.
Let me go ahead and get this out of the way: I have no loyalty to Stephen King’s 1986 novel It, nor to the 1990 TV miniseries starring Tim Curry. I read/watched both of them years – make that decades – ago, but I don’t remember either well enough to have comparison-itis.
I mention all that because some of the complaints I’ve heard from other critics about this movie can overwhelmingly be traced back to people that went in with certain expectations, even if they claim they have none. Maybe not having any loyalty to the originals – or really King for that matter – makes me a godless Philistine, which I answer with a resounding “meh.”
With that mini-rant all said, I will concede that it is probably fair to compare this movie to other Stephen King movies, at least. Sure, they are all separate stories, and sure the filmmakers are almost always different, but damn if there aren’t a lot of them. Like, enough to fill a small section of a video story exclusively with King-based films and TV shows – or I guess more contemporarily, there could be a standalone King streaming service. Kingflix or Huling, or maybe something a little less lawsuit friendly.
In that pantheon of films dedicated to making King rich, director Andy Muschietti has put together one of the better offerings, maybe even one of the best, top five at least (although when you have films like this summer’s The Dark Tower and the epically bad Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace, there’s an easy curve).
It isn’t without flaws, but they are generally minimal. Fans of the older versions will probably find plenty to criticize, and there are some issues that are outside the scope of the film. But overall, It is one of the highlights of what most are considering an extremely disappointing summer movie season.
It adapts the first half of King’s original story, but updates the setting to the late 80s, specifically a nine month period that begins in October 1988 when seven-year old Georgie Denbrough decides to play outside in the rain. His brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), however, decides to stay inside due to a cold. Things don’t go well for poor Georgie, leaving Bill to wonder for months what happened.
Fast forward to the last day of school, and Bill is perhaps the only one that still believes that his brother may be alive. Georgie is one of several missing people, mostly children, and the small town of Derry, Maine is mostly experiencing a willful ignorance with shades of outright denial. Bill convinces his besties – the smartass Richie (Finn Wolfhard), the hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and the local Rabbi’s son Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) – to help him look for his missing brother in the town’s sewers. Thanks in part to the town bully Henry (Nicholas Hamilton), Bill’s group expands by three: the library-friendly Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the outsider Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and the gutsy and slightly traumatized Beverly (Sophia Lillis). Together they make up The Losers Club (which is also the unofficial subtitle of the film).
Through a combination of investigation and wrong-place-wrong-time, the group each encounter the supernatural clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), who continues to terrorize them in unique and creative ways. While the horror elements are present throughout, It is just as much a coming of age story, with the 14(ish) year-olds all being forced to accept the weight of adult responsibilities, while the actual adults in town are generally a collection of worthless scumbags and vacant meatbags.
It actually borrows heavily from the recent, similar monster/coming of age property, Stranger Things, which itself was heavily influenced by the original It. And that’s a good move – it embraces the fear elements without neglecting the personal side of it. The new film even co-stars one of Stranger Things breakout stars, Wolfhard, who seems equally comfortable with carrying every scene he is in or falling back and being part of the ensemble. The filmmakers cast incredibly talented young actors and actresses – and not 20-year-olds pretending to by 16, but actual young people.
The filmmakers cast incredibly talented young actors and actresses – and not 20-year-olds pretending to by 16, but actual young people. Lieberher, Lillis, and Taylor manage to pull off a fairly sweet and convincing love triangle, while the entire cast convincingly conveys the weight of what they are up against. Skarsgård, who is himself only 27, also manages to oscillate convincingly between clown and monster when needed.
Despite the strong performances, there are a few speed bumps with the pacing as it jumps between big moments and slow. It also doesn’t build up to the finale as much as it stumbles into it, and there are so many characters that most of them aren’t as well developed as others. But honestly, these are minor complaints.
The larger complaint is directed at the studio rather than the filmmakers. It was filmed and developed as a duology. The plan was always to focus first on the characters as kids, then jump 27 years into the future when Pennywise returns. The studio apparently didn’t have much confidence in the film though, as it won’t begin production on the sequel until sometime next year. That means “Chapter Two” probably won’t hit theaters until 2019.
This isn’t just a “but I want it now!” complaint, it’s a shortsighted move that stops It from being an event. A concluding sequel should be coming out just a few months from now, which would leave fans rabid for months rather than letting them cool over years. The first part is a complete movie with a beginning, middle, and end, but it’s impossible to escape the feeling that there is more to it that we aren’t seeing. The budget for the first film was reportedly just $35 million – by comparison, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword cost literally five times as much and will probably earn five times less than It – which makes the studio’s decision especially galling.
It Review Conclusion
It is a bright spot in a generally disappointing summer movie season, and it does so by focusing on the characters and then interjecting the horror on top of that. The result is a group of kids forced to grow up quickly, rather than a monster film with potential victims.
It’s a shame that the second part won’t be able to fully capitalize on the first, and not just because you’ll want more, but because there’s an incomplete feeling that won’t be addressed for a year or more. It’s a minor complaint though, in a film that delivers and will send you straight to Google to search for details on the sequel.
It is rated R with a running time of 135 minutes.