2017’s It: Chapter One is a rare example of a horror remake that gets absolutely everything right– the acting from it’s child cast is pitch-perfect, hilarious, and superlatively charming; the scares are intense, lingering, and earned; and at the heart of it all is a gang of misfits who look out for each other at the expense of their own well-being.
It was directed by Argentine filmmaker Andy Muschietti, who also wrote and directed 2013’s underrated horror masterpiece Mama and is set to direct It: Chapter Two. This was the second film adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel, after the 1990 television miniseries.
It follows a group called The Losers Club, seven children in Derry, Maine who band together to face their town bullies. Like the miniseries, It opens with little Georgie excitedly taking his new paper sailboat out for a dip in the rainy streets of his neighborhood. When the paper boat floats into a nearby sewer drain, Pennywise the Dancing Clown introduces himself to Georgie before biting off his arm and dragging him to his death in the sewer.
This leaves Georgie’s family in despair, especially his big brother Bill, a member of the Loser’s Club. Slowly over the following days, all seven kids come face-to-face with It, which manifests itself to the child in the form of whatever they fear most.
Stanley Uris: When you’re a kid, you think that you’ll always be… protected, and cared for. Then, one day, you realize that’s not true. If you open your eyes, you will see what we’re going through. ‘Cause when you’re alone as a kid, the monsters see you as weaker. You don’t even know they’re getting closer. Until it’s too late.
The gang of kiddos do a little investigating and discover that their hometown of Derry has a centuries-long history of children going missing. And for some unknown reason, the parents don’t really seem to give a shit. That forces the Losers Club to step up to put an end to It’s reign on their town. They learn that It reawakens to terrorize the town every 27 years. So the kids hatch a plan to take down It by attacking it in its home in the sewers.
The 1990 miniseries of It got a lot of things wrong, which kept it from reaching the greatness promised by its surprisingly deep source material. The child actors were unconvincing; the dialog was uninspired; the 192-minute runtime made it too unfocused to enjoy– even in two sittings; the town of Derry lacked the heart and character that it had in King’s book; and the entire second half was a chore to watch.
2017’s It: Chapter One suffers from none of those issues. Each child actor is full of character and heart that it’s so easy to root for them in every instance of danger. The importance of this feat can’t be over-stated. Because without the audience being able to have empathy for the characters, you’re essentially just joylessly watching kids get traumatized.
Then there’s the scares. Bill Skarsgård is an unstoppable, nightmare-inducing wonder to watch. According to the blu ray special features, the director purposely kept Skarsgård away from the kid actors, so when they film their scenes with Skarsgård in costume and makeup, their reactions to his ghastly performances are real. The horror of his acting is elevated by what appears to be mostly practical special effects.
Muschietti does an impeccable job bringing the town of Derry to life with hollowness and dread. Kids are getting bullied; they’re going missing, showing up chopped up into pieces. But none of the adults want to talk about it. It’s that sense of unspoken tension that invigorates the Losers Club to take action to end the cycle of complicity in It’s rampage.
It: Chapter One is a captivating horror film from the terrifying first scene to the terrifying final scene. While the miniseries did an adequate job of bringing Stephen King’s town of Derry to life (thanks mostly to the acting from Tim Curry), the 2017 adaptation of It was everything the miniseries wasn’t and more– a nearly flawless horror flick chock-full of scares but grounded in heart and plenty of laughs. Let’s just all hope Andy Muschietti can bring that same magic to It: Chapter Two.
“It: Chapter One” is available on DVD, blu ray, and digital download here on Amazon. And be sure to check out the other entries in the Stephen King Horror-Thon right here on Horror Theory.