The 2017 “It” remake – now available from Redbox — is the most Stephen Kingy Stephen King adaptation to hit the screen in a long time, as the interactions between the heroic nerds and villainous bullies are palpable, and a lot of the action with titular clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) and other monsters feels like King’s words brought to life with modern special effects – something not possible in the 1990 TV miniseries.
No doubt greenlit because of the popularity of TV’s “Stranger Things,” this adaptation of the first half of King’s 1986 novel leans heavily on the appeal of a group of “loser” kids in the 1980s, giving the target audience – American culture’s last generation that regularly played outside — their nostalgic fix.
Director Andy Muschietti and screenwriters Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman (the “Annabelle” movies) start the film in harsh fashion to contrast with the cheese of the 1990 version. The younger brother of stuttering lead Billy (Jaeden Lieberher) is dragged to his doom down a curbside drain, leaving only a puddle of blood mixed with the rainwater – a sobering reminder to keep your distance from sewer-dwelling clowns.
But the bullies, including Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and Belch (Jake Sim) — one guess as to what his superpower is – are soon established as the really scary ones, a big reason why some are calling this a horror answer to “Stand By Me.” Indeed, when the Losers (they embrace the moniker) come together, they observe a common bond: Bowers is after all of them.
The writers do a good job giving the kids personalities and genuine friendships, although you’ll recognize the archetypes: Along with Billy, the original quartet includes talky bespectacled Richie (Finn Wolfhard), worrywart Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and pragmatic Stanley (Wyatt Oleff). After nice subplots, they are joined by sweet fat kid Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), outcast girl Beverly (Sophia Lillis), and Mike (Chosen Jacobs), who fills both the black and homeschooled demographic.
When the kids go swimming at the rock quarry and are distracted from their studies of Derry’s violent history by noticing the fact that underwear-clad Bev is a girl, it’s a very true moment. The first hour of the film has many tidbits like these that establish the reality of the lives of high school freshman (or thereabouts) in a backwater town in 1988.
It’s weird, then, that when the horror gets ratcheted up, it’s not scary. The settings fit the bill, from a run-down house to disgusting sewer tunnels. And hinting at some non-supernatural chills, we get multiple lower-middle-class living rooms that are clearly inhabited by drunk and/or abusive parents – or in the case of Eddie, an overly protective one. That might be the problem, actually: It’s all so familiar. Additionally, I think the thick layer of supernaturalism takes a viewer away from the grounded elements.
“It: Chapter Two” is planned for 2019, and it’ll presumably find these characters battling Pennywise again as adults. The sequel will no doubt be better than the second part of the 1990 version and a faithful adaptation of King’s novel. After watching a couple hours of likable characters playing out an oh-so-familiar plot, I wish the Losers Club well, but I don’t really care to sit through the proceedings again.