Director: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Jackson Robert Scott, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Grazer
Movie remakes, whether you like them or not, have become a ubiquitous force in the film industry, pushing away originality in favour of rehashing a cult favourite.
It seems that it’s the horror genre that continuously fails to resist the temptation of replacing originality for a simple remake. Sometimes it works (see Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead or Carpenter’s The Thing), but more often or not they remain in the shadow of their predecessors. Yet on a rare occasion a remake makes sense. Maybe the original hasn’t aged well; maybe new advancements in technology would bolster the success of an outdated predecessor. Enter Andy Muschietti’s ‘IT’.
The original 1990 two-part mini series does not hold up in today’s current climate. Re-visiting Tommy Lee Wallace’s 3-hour adaptation brings with it laughs and disbelief at its cheesiness, something that King would have wanted to avoid entirely in his original novel. The stop motion CG is unconvincing, the performances are droll, and more devastatingly, it’s just not that scary.
Andy Muschietti was the perfect choice for directing the 2017 remake. An up-and-coming horror director with just one feature length credit to his name (the completely undervalued ‘Mama’), Muschietti had big boots to fill. There was a lot of expectation delivered by the cult following that the 1990 series had acquired since its release, and boy, Muschietti did not disappoint.
The structural similarities between King’s novel and the 1990 original, the constant interloping between the present day and the past, is a formula that Muschietti wanted to avoid. Much of the original’s many criticisms was its continuous need to shift back and forth between two time zones (with some pretty cheesy transitions) that just became overly convoluted and confusing for the viewer to follow. Muschietti, thankfully, solely narrates the childhood story of the Losers Club, and chooses to neglect the adult aspect of King’s novel. Perhaps we’ll delve into that story at another time, eh?
Muschietti’s 2017 re-hash begins with perhaps the most iconic scene from the original. Young Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) and his little paper boat, created by older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), journey through the rainy streets of Derry, Maine (can you tell this is a Stephen King adaptation?), the young boy enjoying the endless puddles and streams with no care in the world. Until his boat ends up in the sewers…
The introduction of Pennywise is one that is met with gasps from the audience. The upgraded appearance of Skarsgård’s clown is a terrifying sight to behold, thanks to the wonderful work of costume designer Janie Bryant and the makeup crew. But there’s a certain uniqueness to Skarsgård’s portrayal that predecessor Tim Curry couldn’t quite deliver. Skarsgård maintains the deceivingly cheerful and witty nature that Curry so excellently delivered in the original, but undeniably adds more to the table; a terrifying demeanour that’ll send shivers down the spine of the viewer. He dominates every scene he’s in, and much like Ledger’s portrayal of Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’, you find yourselves eagerly waiting for his appearances in the film. It’s just a shame that ‘IT’ only pops up once every 27 years isn’t it?
Pennywise’s treatment of Georgie sets the tone for the rest of the film. Muschietti’s remake is by far a more faithful adaptation of King’s often gory and explicit nature than the 1990 original, holding back no punches in the deliverance of the bloodshed that is shown on screen. Pennywise is a real threat to the children of Derry, something that was only alluded to and never truly shown in Wallace’s adaptation.
After a series of missing children in the Derry town, one of which being Georgie, the local population remains under curfew, with parents being more cautious about their children’s whereabouts. Brought together through cruelty from the town’s local bullies, a gang of misfits find friendship in such evil circumstances. Stuttering Bill (Lieberher), big-boned intellect Ben (Jeremy Taylor), misunderstood Beverley (Sophia Lillis), crude Richie (Finn Wolfhard), industrious Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and mother’s boy Eddie (Jack Grazer) make up the Losers Club, friends bound together by blood oaths and hilarious banter. Muschietti’s ‘Stand By Me’–meets-‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ story adheres to the coming-of-age clichés visible in the novel and the 1990 mini-series, from the one-dimensional bullies to the dysfunctional family relationships, yet it’s never eye-rolling in its presentation, if anything, it feels nostalgic and charming.
The youthful ensemble cast of the Losers Club is one of the film’s many redeeming qualities, helping to create a perfect balance between humour and horror, so that it’s not an all out creep fest, nor a mere parody of its premise. The organic chemistry between the cast allow the viewer to invest into, and be convinced by, the somewhat absurd premise of King’s shape-shifting killer clown story. Yet the pioneer of the film’s many, many laughs is Finn Wolfhard’s Richie, (note the similarities between Stranger Things, I dare ya!), whose crude, off-the-cuff humour drives the narrative forward with a touch of charm. Albeit this sense of charm shouldn’t really fit in a horror narrative, it somehow does, and at times places more emphasis on Pennywise’s appearances when IT arrives.
And when Pennywise does arrive he brings with him some hair-raising and chilling moments. The clown’s ability to shape-shift into whatever his victims fear is a clear metaphor for the childhood issues that each of the Losers Club battle against. Each of the members are burdened with their own issues, and IT thrives on their fear and exploits their weaknesses. Skarsgård’s monster is a formidable foe for the young misfits of Derry, leading to a final confrontation filled that, in truth, is the only nit pick I have of the film. It’s predictably action-oriented instead of suspenseful, and the stakes that were so excellently built from the offset of the movie were reduced to something as trivial as a final boss battle in a video game.
Yet in the end this is a step in the right direction, for both Andy Muschietti and the reputation of movie remakes. When it’s done right, with respect to the source material that Muschietti clearly has, the final outcome can match its predecessor, or even in this case, trump the original.
‘IT’ is terrifying, hilarious, and endearing, and by far one of the biggest surprises that Hollywood has had to offer over recent years. Take a friend and scare yourselves senseless, because ‘IT’ is definitely worth your time and money.