I guess by now I am an expert on It, I even read It way before It was cool. The book creeped me out thoroughly over 20 years ago, helped by me reading it at a remote vacation spot, away from the safety of crowds. It told the story of a group of friends going up against a demonic creature that mostly showed up in the shape of a deeply disturbing clown called Pennywise. When I read It back then, that damn clown seemed to be hiding in every shadow in the real world for a while until I managed to repress him.
When I saw the television series from 1990, Tim Curry hit the nail on the head playing the titular It, but the rest of the production was ropy, hamstrung by a low budget that lead to laughable special effects and an eye-roll worthy climax. It was interesting, but the story seemed neutered, scares were lacking and the result was not nearly as effective as the book.
So now there is a new It in town, which tells the same story but reshuffles things quite a bit. In the series and the book, we see a group of adults dealing with the fact that their old, supernatural foe has resurfaced in their old stomping grounds. In flashbacks, we follow them as kids, ultimately confronting this Dark Force. In the present day, the adults return to the town to fight It once more. The new film ditches all that current day stuff, just focusing on the kids, and doesn’t let on until the credits that you may want to mentally prepare for a sequel.
The Stranger Things vibe is strong here, not least because one of the actors from that series – Finn Wolfhard – is in the movie. The story has been shifted to the (late) 80’s, probably because a sequel with adults could then take place in current day. There is a sense of danger, and the classic opening scene from all previous It-erations – hah – returns here in surprisingly gory fashion. The film doesn’t really get under your skin however, feeling more like a high-class thrill-ride through a haunted house than something insidious. It is definitely more daring than the tv-series, hinting at sexual abuse – for one – though things are still toned down from the book. Admittedly, I had completely forgotten about a now controversial couple of pages describing an under-age sex scene that was thankfully culled.
A problem with the intended sequel may be that the most effective scenes have already been used. The book was stronger when focusing on the kids than when hanging out with the adults. More ad-libbing and adding of original content will be necessary. But based on how well this first part of the story was told, it seems likely that the same team will be able to deliver something entertaining, even if it won’t manage to give you goosebumps.