Welcome to Derry. There’s loads to do here. Like go to the pictures. Or marinade in the small-town Americana. Or chill with a clown who wants to tear your soul apart. Yeah, Derry looks nice in the brochures, but people die at six times the national average here – and that’s just the adults. The kids have it way worse, as anybody who’s read Stephen King’s 1986 novel will know.
In Derry, a malevolent, shapeshifting presence feeds on young adults every 27 years and, in Andy Muschietti’s solid adaptation of King’s story, ‘It’ has resurfaced to target a fresh set of tweens.
As far as set-ups go, they don’t get much more elegantly unsettling, and Muschietti (Mama) knows it. Slipping into the director’s chair after Cary Fukunaga (True Detective) departed, his is a loyal translation that administers minor tweaks to maximise King’s lethal scares.
Aside from stripping out the book’s adult Losers Club segments (which will play out in the already-greenlit Chapter 2), the real masterstroke is relocating the action from the ’50s to the ’80s, which gives Muschietti the opportunity to update the monsters. Where King’s book resurrected many of the now oh-so-dated Universal monsters, Muschietti plums for smart psychological terrors that are gloriously unpredictable.
Yes, but is it scary? Well, Bill Skarsgård is certainly unnerving as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, ‘It’s favourite manifestation, and a segment in a flooded basement (sadly spoiled in the trailers) is nothing short of bone-chilling.
But IT isn’t really a horror movie. It’s an Amblin-riffing adventure in which its young heroes – all of them outstanding, particularly Sophia Lillis and Jack Dylan Grazer – tackle growing pains that happen to manifest in scary ways. It’s a film that owes a huge debt to Stranger Things (a show, of course, that owes a huge debt to King), playing more like a horror version of Stand By Me than the original ’90s mini-series starring Tim Curry.
So, yes, a trip to Derry is worth your while. Come for Pennywise but stay for the kids; they ensure that this is the most heartwarming horror movie you’ll see all year.
This review originally appeared in Crack magazine.