One of this years most unexpected surprises (and for fans of the book, one of the biggest reliefs) was the first part of Andy Muschietti’s ('Mama') adaptation of ‘It’. What could have been a cheap, insincere horror cash-in instead offered genuine unease, clear artistic vision, a strong cast of young actors and a startling interpretation of the most legendary of nightmare-inducing clowns, all the while maintaining the integrity of the source material.
Focusing on the period sections of the novel and relocating them to the 1980s, ‘It’ follows the Losers Club, a group of misfit kids from the town of Derry, abused or forgotten by their parents, and their quest to find the entity that has been hunting local children. They’ve all seen it in some form or another, the only consistency being that it often appears in the form of a clown calling itself Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård, 'Allegiant'). As they get closer to tracking It down, they start to realise that they are also being hunted by It, in very personal and deeply frightening ways.
Muschietti and writer Gary Dauberman (working from a previous screenplay by Cary Fukunaga and Chase Palmer) could have foregone the rich characters and themes from Stephen King’s masterpiece for a more immediate and forgettable experience. Instead, by keeping the focus on the film firmly on the kids as opposed to the clown, as well as Pennywise’s viciousness, inhumanity and shape-shifting tactics, the film feels more emotionally rich and genuinely entertaining than almost any horror film this year apart from ‘Get Out’. There’s a lush and classical feel, reminiscent of great horror classics like ‘Carrie’ or ‘Halloween’, bolstered by Chung-hoon Chung’s gorgeous cinematography and Benjamin Wallfisch’s surprisingly orchestral and emotional score. Time is taken for us to fall in love with the Loser’s Club, to understand their hopes and fears, and watch the dynamics of their relationships develop. Much like Pennywise, it’s no use watching them be terrorised if we don’t have the context for it to matter, and when the scares come (specific and sudden), they have an added power and potency. ‘It’ isn’t interested in making you jump but haunting your dreams, and some of the images Muschietti conjures are incredibly striking.
SWITCH: 'IT' TRAILER
It also helps that the ensemble that make up the Loser’s Club are consistently excellent, with not a single kid dropping the ball. Muschietti connects beautifully with them, and each is able to bring great honesty and humour to their characters. And at the centre of it all, delivering a performance which only gets better the more you think about it, is Skarsgård as Pennywise, crafting an physical, animalistic and wickedly malicious beast, a creature relishing in the terror it causes. Again, there was an easy, lazier way to deal with this character, but Skarsgård has done the opposite, as with everything that works with this film, focusing on detail and intention rather than making the audience jump.
‘It’ is an example of blockbuster horror at its best. Unnerving, visually striking, emotionally rich, unexpectedly funny and wildly entertaining, it's also a film that only gets better with revisiting. Andy Muschietti has done a sterling job by taking his source material and his audience seriously, and the results have been one of the great box office and critical hits of the year. Thank goodness we only have to wait till 2019 to see the second part bring King’s beloved epic to its insane conclusion.
Unnerving, visually striking, emotionally rich, unexpectedly funny and wildly entertaining, it's also a film that only gets better with revisiting.
PICTURE & SOUND
‘It’ looks beautiful on Blu-ray with a cinematic 1080p 2.35:1 transfer. Clarity and detail is excellent, and the vibrant colour scheme really shines in high definition. There’s also a lot of detail in the darker sequences, which can sometimes be the first to suffer. The disc comes with equally impressive Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD MA 5.1 tracks, offering a rich and balanced audio experience that knows when to really kick into gear.
A 4K Blu-ray release is scheduled for January 2018.
The film comes with a small but strong collection of extras. ‘Pennywise Lives!’ (16:25) offers a really engaging look at how Skarsgård created his vision of Pennywise, only deepening your appreciation for his excellent work. ‘The Loser’s Club’ (15:42) looks at the strong connection and performances from the central young actors, the highlight being how articulately all of them speak about their characters, each other and how they fit within the film and the adaptation. The master himself also makes an appearance in ‘Author of Fear’ (13:51), with King discussing where the ideas came from and how he wrote one of his most beautiful novels.
Lastly, there’s a selection of deleted and extended scenes (running at 15:18), much of it expanding on the abusive relationships between the kids and their families. While not overly necessary, it does bring the film even further in line with the novel, and with the director's cut announced for sometime in 2018, I wouldn’t be surprised if much of this material is reinstated down the track.
While not the most extensive set of extras, this material offers a lot to appreciate, and hopefully we’ll get a lot more material with the inevitable special edition release in the future combining both chapters.