Stephen King adaptations are a dime a dozen these days (almost literally ; rights to his books are famously cheap) , but a good Stephen King adaptation , like a properly cooked steak or a movie where Harrison Ford is actually awake , is exceedingly rare . Of the two adaptations of beloved King novels released this year , the idea that IT might be the superior of the pair seemed laughable a few months ago . But IT is better than The Dark Tower in every conceivable way . And beyond the inevitable comparison , it’s just really good . Scary good , even .
The new IT is narratively coherent , mythologically complex , and above all , fun . Yes , fun . It’s undoubtedly one of the most entertaining experiences I’ve had in a theater all year , and that’s nothing short of astonishing for a film that opens with the brutal attack and partial devouring of a cute little boy . That boy is Georgie , whose 13-year-old brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) believes his little brother is still alive and waiting to be found . Bill and his friends , collectively known as the Losers’ Club , take up the search , and while spending the summer looking for a five-year-old voted Most Likely to Be Dead seems like a real bummer , it’s not as if these kids have much else going on .
There’s Richie (Finn Wolfhard) , who wears his borderline-obnoxious sense of humor as armor ; Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) , an asthmatic kid with a wildly overprotective mother ; and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) , whose Jewish faith renders him inherently other in the woefully small town of Derry , Maine . As fate (or the local bully) would have it , the Losers quickly gain three new members : Beverly (Sophia Lillis) , desperate to spend the summer outside to avoid her abusive father ; Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) , the new outcast on the block who listens to New Kids on the Block ; and Mike (Chosen Jacobs) , the elusive black kid in a town that hasn’t reckoned with its racist past (like , oh , most towns in America ) . Derry is a place where bad things happen , especially to children , with alarming frequency — and adults tend to ignore it just as often . It’s a place where the nastiest parts of history repeat themselves , and where the local teen bully is your garden variety white male sociopath with access to guns , destined to wind up on a government watchlist . It’s the kind of town that makes you think there’s something in the water . Only in Derry , that’s literally the case .
Well , it’s in the sewer system , anyway . IT is an evil clown with a large appetite (and a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth to match) for children . Bill and his friends aren’t just connected through their shared outsider status , but through a series of inventively chilling encounters with Pennywise the clown , played to delirious , bizarre perfection by Bill Skarsgard . It’s impossible to best Tim Curry’s performance in the 1991 IT TV miniseries , and Skarsgard doesn’t even try . Instead , he delivers an almost self-aware version of the classic villain , leaning into the inherent silliness of an evil clown who hangs out in sewers and eats kids . Like Heath Ledger did with the Joker (but not that good) , Skarsgard finds a new approach to playing a villain made iconic by another actor , and it works surprisingly well . (I’m still not entirely convinced that Pennywise isn’t Jake Gyllenhaal as Okja’s Dr. Johnny in greasepaint and a Victorian onesie — and that’s a compliment) .
Perhaps the success of the latest adaptation of IT can also be attributed to director Andres Muschietti’s decision to exclude King from the development process . The master of literary horror doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to killing his darlings ; his disdain for Stanley Kubrick’s great adaptation of The Shining is fairly well-known . What works on the page doesn’t always work so well on screen , and there is plenty of material in King’s 1,100-plus page novel that can’t — and probably shouldn’t , in the case of one notorious sewer scene — make the transition .
But IT largely succeeds thanks to a cast of incredibly talented kids and their ridiculously entertaining — and supremely profane — banter . They bring levity (and heart) to the most nail-biting and skin-crawling moments in the film , making IT more of a coming-of-age dramedy with horrific elements than an outright horror film . And that’s the way it should be . Lieberher is the dramatic anchor of the bunch , while Wolfhard and Grazer steal almost every scene with their well-timed jokes . With so many kids on screen , it’d be easy for some of those voices and hilarious one-liners to get lost in all the crosstalk , but there’s something kind of masterful about the choreography of their dialogue .
IT was sort of the underdog of the fall , and certainly the scrappier of this year’s two Stephen King adaptations . There were several elements conspiring against it from the start : A remake of a classic horror story previously adapted with an indelible villain performance ; the removal of director Cary Fukunaga , whose truly excellent script was mostly discarded (he still received screenwriting credit) , and his replacement with a director whose first film (Mama) was underwhelming . IT isn’t even just good despite all of that , and it doesn’t merely exceed (admittedly low) expectations . Muschietti’s film is genuinely wonderful , and more fun than any film that features the brutal deaths of children has any right to be . (Though it certainly earns the hell out of that R rating) . Horror remakes are a dime a dozen . But thoroughly awesome horror remakes — well , those are sort of like good Stephen King adaptations .