IT: Chapter One stars Bill Skarsgard, Jaedan Lieberher, and Sophia Lillis and was directed by Andy Muschietti. It’s the second film adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel of the same name and focuses on a group of kids, the self-proclaimed Losers Club, who encounter a killer clown in the town of Derry, Maine. Despite being terrorized by Pennywise the Clown, the group decides to face their fears and attempt to stop IT once and for all.
I have to admit, I was a bit concerned when I first heard that they were remaking this film. I’m a huge Stephen King fan and grew up reading his novels. IT was the fourth one of his that I ever read and was the one that resonated with me the most at the time. Not only did it have some thoroughly creepy moments and a wonderful supernatural antagonist, but it had heart. I know that might sound strange when talking about a story that centers on a killer clown, but it’s true. The Losers Club feel so real and are so relatable that it just pulls you in even further.
IT’s truly the supernatural horror Stand By Me. So, the novel is one of my favorites, but what about the miniseries? Eh, not so much. I actually appreciate IT more now than when I was a younger, but it can’t hold a candle to the book. So why was I concerned about a remake? Stephen King novels-turned-film are rarely good. I don’t really understand it, but it’s true. So, my concern was really just selfish. I simply didn’t want another disappointing King adaptation. But, I was heartened by the approval the film had gotten from King himself and I was excited to see that he even put a red balloon in the window of his Bangor house at the time of release. So, I saw IT: Chapter One in theaters.
It was actually a very surreal experience for me. As you probably know, I live in Maine. Just outside of Bangor, which just so happens to be the city that Derry was based on. So, I actually got to see IT in a Bangor (Derry) theater, which was pretty cool. I mentioned this in my review of the IT miniseries, but there’s just something unique about watching a film that’s supposed to be set where you live. Recognizing all the landmarks and local customs; the standpipe, the barrens, the Paul Bunyan statue. Even the neighborhoods look like Bangor. Bill and Georgie could literally be Stephen King’s next-door neighbors and it wouldn’t look out of place. But, it wasn’t just the location that made this theatrical viewing of IT feel so surreal.
The miniseries was released in 1990, which happened to also be the year I was born. So here I was, watching the remake in 2017, 27 years later… the same number of years that Pennywise hibernates for. It all just seemed too coincidentally perfect. Not only were the circumstances perfect, but the filmmakers also didn’t mess up this adaptation, so it was a great movie too. I really appreciate the two chapter route that was taken with this film. It’s true that the novel crosscut between the young Losers Club and them as adults, but that’s something that’s tough to pull off even in novel-form.
The miniseries really struggled with its attempts to do that and I think that severely hampered the emotional impact of the story. In this remake of IT, we get to solely focus on the group as kids for the first chapter. And they actually feel like kids. Everything about their performances work. Not only do that legitimately seem like friends, but they act and talk how kids actually act and talk. They swear, they say inappropriate and mean things to each other, they say silly things and make weird sounds that don’t make any sense. They goof around, they cry, they fight, but most importantly, they have each other’s backs in the end. In addition to the acting and camaraderie among the kids, this film far surpasses the miniseries in terms of style as well. Cinematically, this film is great.
It looks wonderful, the set design is fantastic, and the lighting is optimally used. IT also has a much more unsettling and creepy tone than its predecessor did, plus it’s far more brutal. That opening scene alone is more intense than anything in the miniseries. The 80s setting also helped out a bit, and this film certainly has a Stranger Things vibe to it which, for me at least, isn’t a bad thing. Although not really scary, the tension is palpable every time Pennywise makes an appearance, even when he’s not in clown form.
The sequence in the library still gives me goosebumps. Every time I watch this movie, I get this very strange, but intense feeling of nostalgia. And there’s no reason for that. The movie’s only a few years old, so I get no nostalgia from that. And it’s not nostalgia for the 1990 miniseries either. It’s not even nostalgia for when I read the book back in junior high. I didn’t grow up in Maine, I never had a group of friends like this, and I wasn’t a teenager in the late 80s. There’s no reason for the nostalgic, almost comforting feeling I get from this movie, yet it’s there. And it gets stronger every time I watch it. I’m happy to say that, even on rewatch, this film has held up as a fun and creepy adaptation of IT. Is it perfect? No, but I don’t think we could ever get a fully-satisfying film adaptation of IT.
The source material is just too long, too detailed, and too layered to transfer to cinema well. But, we did get something good here and probably as close of an adaptation as we could ever hope for. I’m a fan and I know I’m definitely looking forward to IT: Chapter Two and the adult side of the story. It’ll be interesting to see what they end up doing with it. Alright, let’s talk about the pros and cons. Pro number one has gotta be the kids. Interestingly enough, that was the standout element of the 1990s miniseries for me too. Once again, the kids truly feel like a real group of friends. They act like kids rather than actors pretending to be normal kids.
The relationships among these kids feel genuine and remind you of other good cinematic kid groups like in The Goonies and Stand By Me. The second pro is the tone. It’s horror, but not too scary. It’s comedy, but not overly funny. It has this very real, grounded feeling to it, despite the looming supernatural elements. I’d say it’s a fun watch, but it does have this chilling aspect to it too. For me, I think that adds to the fun and the balance of tone really heightens the experience. Pro number three is the sound design. It was something I noticed when I saw it in the theater, but even rewatching it at home, it’s still extremely effective.
The music’s ominous and swells to overpowering highs at points, but it perfectly pairs with the sounds of the story. Whether that be rainfall, creaking floorboards, or the echoes of splashing footsteps in the sewer, it draws you into the story and puts you right there with the Losers Club. On the con side, I really don’t have any major issues. Like I said before, IT is a novel that’s impossible to fully translate to the screen. There are subplots and scenes from the book that I would’ve loved to have seen in the movie. I also think they could’ve done a little bit more with Stanley here cause he does feel like the least developed character from the Losers Club. And I kinda wish they stuck with the late 50s setting of the book, but I understand the desire to make the chronology match up with the 2017 release of the film. It’s not a perfect movie, but all of my issues are basically nitpicks.
I’m gonna give IT: Chapter One 4.5 out of 5 paws. For an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, especially one as long and complex as IT, this was fantastic. It’s a fun horror movie that draws from excellent source material, plus it checks all the boxes of a well-made film. I would recommend IT: Chapter One to anybody who likes horror movies. It’s certainly not the scariest movie out there and I’m sure a lot of people would even classify this as a kind of teen horror film, but it’s a solid, unsettling coming-of-age adventure story. If you like Stephen King’s books, it’s a pretty good bet you’ll enjoy this too. It’s easily one of the strongest adaptations of any of his novels. If you liked IT: Chapter One, I’ve gotta recommend Stand By Me for it’s strong coming-of-age themes and realistic portrayal of a group of kids.
Similarly, I’d recommend that you check out The Goonies for another Losers Club of sorts. It’s much more of an adventure story, but certainly has its darker, creepier aspects too. And I would also cautiously recommend the 1990 IT miniseries. I think this remake is far superior, but that version still deserves a watch, if only for Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise. Alright, a couple questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen IT: Chapter One? And number two: What’s your favorite clown movie? Or… least favorite as the case may be. Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going. Alright, so if you got some enjoyment, insight, or information out of this review, I’d appreciate.