|Scene from IT|
With each passing generation, the idea of a "Stephen King movie" becomes a bit harder to understand. At its center, the concept sparks from the general concept of watching scary movies together in the late hours of the night, getting freaked out by the demented mind of an author who processes horror in a way that connects with our visceral cores. While there's been a few masterpieces (Carrie, Christine, The Shining, etc.), a Stephen King movie nowadays is looked upon as Cell or The Dark Tower: films of mediocrity that are usurped by directors making original movies inspired tangentially by King's work. For those who have lost faith in another adaptation of his ever reaching the sweet spot of fear, then PLEASE get out and see director Andy Muschietti's adaptation of IT, which isn't just faithful to the source material. It's downright haunting.
The one character that everyone remembers from IT is Pennywise the Dancing Clown. How could you not? He's first introduced in a sewer before going on a rampage to haunt the town of Derry every 27 years. However, Pennywise is just a front for what is truly scary about King's original book "IT," which has been constantly lobbied as his quintessential book. The town of Derry is a place of mass horror where adults look past childhood abuse and evil seems to exist in every last portion of the town. It's not a great town, but one not unfamiliar to The Last Picture Show where people would drive through, but the thought of visiting for longer than that is a bit dull. It's the one detail that Muschietti gets right before the film allows too much more to develop. It isn't Pennywise who's scary. It's Derry as a construct.
He thankfully pits that against "The Losers Club," which is a gang of kids who are social outcasts. Each one has a personality fitting to 12-year-olds of 1989. They curse and talk about sex in ways that clearly go beyond reality. They annoy each other, and it creates an endearing dynamic that makes even their most trivial exchanges work. Speaking as the second and third act are more horror oriented, the first act's ability to center around these seven kids (who were excellently cast) gives the film a heart akin to more traditional dramas like Stand By Me. These are kids who have high esteem but can't possibly grasp the world around them in ways that adults don't find as annoying. They are in some ways fractured to the point that it's hard to see them hanging out with anyone else, especially as IT transitions into a story more centered around childhood trauma.
For the first half, Muschietti doesn't need to worry about Pennywise for more than background appearances. Derry is his fascination, and it becomes a haunting maze that explores fears in ways that play on the audiences' expectations. A simple trip through the library forces the viewer to wonder how they would deal with horrors that are, as the characters want to believe, not real. While the characters are often infectiously chummy at the other points of the movie, the scary sequences work because of how real their chemistry feels. Much like King's book, the characters aren't tethered to a safety net and are prone to injury; sometimes by Pennywise, often by people around town. Much like the best passages from King, Muschietti chooses to accentuate the horror in ways that are unexpected but rewarding to the narrative. It immerses the viewer in a way that the 1990 miniseries of the same name could only allude to. This isn't restricted to TV standards and practices. This is the whole enchilada, and it's got a great use of The Cure's "Six Different Ways" to boot.
It should be noted that this is only half of the book. While this may seem egregious to bigger franchises like The Hunger Games or Twilight, IT has a nice breaking point between what is being dubbed "Chapter One" and the proposed "Chapter Two." The story concludes the youthful journey of exploring fear succinctly, leaving the events that take place 27 years later to be seen probably around Halloween '18. The one caveat is that The Losers Club portion was always more thrilling than the adults portion, with both being intertwined in the books in effective manner. Given the book's 1,000+ page run however, it would be too confusing and non-commercial to release a four hour version that is THAT faithful, and would be confusing to make anything else that doesn't read as a film dropping out midway for a year.
IT is the type of film that earns its scares and fills it with emotional stakes to boot. With exception to his more dramatic films like The Green Mile, this is the purest form of the Stephen King movie that has been seen in decades. There have been good movies, some largely schlock, but IT is the first time this century that the King mentality feels like it was perfectly translated from book to film without sacrificing more than certain conventions to fit their medium. It grabs the viewer and scares them, asking for their opinion to be more of a viral video type function where you tell a friend at school "Oh, you have to see IT." More than the other adaptation, this will make you afraid of clowns, but not just because of surface-level horror. IT will be so much more, and that includes making you wish that all King movies were this good.