It’s bloody tricky to adapt a beloved bestseller to the big screen. There are so many ways to go about it, and there is always the challenge of what to extrapolate on and what to leave out.
Hannibal Lecter is a great example, from the steel-sprung, precision scares of the iconic classic Silence of the Lambs to the two adaptions of the original Lecter book Red Dragon (first presented in Michael Mann’s Manhunter, a very moody, very ’80s cult flick that sank without trace in 1986 but magnificently captured the spirit of the book), followed by Brett Ratner’s lifeless 2002 redux.
Stephen King knows the pitfalls of a bad adaptation too well, with a skewed version of his novel The Dark Tower recently hitting the big screen in a blaze of mediocrity.
But nature abhors a vacuum and into the void comes the even longer-awaited adaptation of King’s cult-come-commercial classic IT, about a killer clown who terrorises the kids of small town Derry, Maine. For a remake of sorts (the original was produced as a television miniseries), the film is a bloody ripper; a crowd-pleasing horror that cleverly compresses the novel into a hugely entertaining narrative. It’s certainly not a credible epic in the vein of Stand by Me or The Shawshank Redemption but IT gets all the important stuff for a movie – particularly a horror movie – absolutely right.
The screenplay, developed by Cary Fukanaga (who directed the first season of True Detective) efficiently sets up the sinister backdrop of Derry, getting the tone just right with plenty of scares, suspense and nastiness, all expertly staged and combining sharp cinematography, mood music and bloody effects galore. A refreshing thing about IT is that many of Derry’s horrors take place in broad daylight, something we rarely see in the horror genre – where obscuring the trickier gory bits with chiaroscuro photography is usually par for the course.
But the real strength of IT is its brilliant young cast, the most well-known player being Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things fame, who, along with the others, lights up the screen with warmth, empathy and humour while lending the horrors of IT that much more impact.
Pennywise the Clown is truly frightening, played with otherworldly manic energy (and at times a bit Joker-like) by Bill Skarsgård, who is pitch-perfect as a new classic monster in an adaptation that is destined to be King’s biggest hit ever.
Skarsgård’s Pennywise not only has a much creepier presence compared to Tim Curry’s small-screen antagonist, he’s a shape-shifter of even more guises – from zombie to ghoul to ‘drag clown’ (in one scene, his face is perversely juxtaposed onto the figure of one of the kid’s mothers in a series of slide projections).
While some of your more conservative critics (hello Luke Buckmaster) may consider this film a mere cash-grabbing scare-fest, the true horror aficionado will recognise and appreciate its genre-defining and genre-defying qualities. Andrew Thorn
‘IT’ is in cinemas now.