Imagine your summer ruined by a curfew at 7p.m. and the mystery of disappearing people.
Could a tall clown in powder white make-up and costume, spotted by the children have something to do with these vanishings? You bet your wide smile, he does.
Were you genuinely horrified about last year’s clown sightings? A disturbingly high number of spooky clowns were reported to be seen galavanting in the US, including Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. Damn, that’s a lot of states. If you were, then this is not the movie for you.
Fair warning: don't watch this movie if you have coulrophobia (fear of clowns).
It is a well-crafted and well-written shot of excellent terror. It’s an updated and, in many technical filmmaking ways, a better version of the 1990 mini-series.
It hits the right note at exactly the right time, with just enough escalating pressure for the denoument. Screenwriters Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman have imbued their script with King's signature compassion for narrative. This is still the classic touching tale of adolescent coming of age, childhood dreams, and friendship. That it’s set against the fight against a powerful evil is paramount.
Bravo, director Andy Muschietti (who acquits himself from his lopsided movie about feral kids in Mama) for capturing the touching facets of friendship between the Losers’ Club and even a brush with the first love of adolescence. If there’s a flaw in this movie, it’s that there is a barrage of references that it throws at you, their stray threads detracting from the build-up of the larger, more important narrative. Still, that is a trivial concern.
When Pennywise makes his appearance, the scares unify and renew the cause of all this hoopla. There's a killer clown on the loose! Be sure of this, nightmares are guaranteed. Or as the movie is wont to declare: “You'll float, too!”
Welcome to Derry, Maine, where vanishings seems to be a matter of season. In 1958, 127 children, ranging in age from three to nineteen, were reported missing in the small, New England town. In 1989, it’s all happening again.
Something is hunting down the townsfolk and it looks like the boys of the self-dubbed Loser’s Club are at the center of it. In a barkada of nerds, the stuttering Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) keenly knows the pain of such loss. In the iconic opening sequence, his younger brother Georgie goes out to play and sail his paper boat through the puddles during a mild rain, never to come home again. Bill is the heart and natural leader of the group, his friends often draw on his convictions to face Pennywise.
Notable performances among the kids belong to Sophia Lillis and Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard.
Lillis, as the abused pre-teen Beverly Marsh, imbues her character with just enough empowered grace and street smarts to still be upbeat and caring—the kind of '80s manic pixie dream girl who likes books, bikes, and hanging with geeks. Wolfhard’s Richie Tozier, bespectacled, fast-talking, and afraid of heights, will be loved for his big mouth and feigned bravado, and is the group’s claim to any kind of casual machismo.
As much as the kids of the Loser’s Club are coming of age jumping cliffs, fending off bullies, and discovering their budding fascination with girls, the star of the show is the unnamable monster that enjoys taking the guise of Pennnywise, the Dancing Clown.
Tall and lanky Bill Skarsgard (of Hemlock Grove) acquits himself with an aptly freakish performance. Vastly different from the hammy and often heavy handed clown of Tim Curry in the '90s mini-series, Skarsgard’s performance is filled with gentle, even soft notes of genuine delight. Then that wide smile turns into a jagged psychotic grin, those joyful eyes take on a murderous hunger, and the clown is no longer just a clown.
Those who’ve read the novel will remember that Pennywise is just one of the guises of the shapeshifter that has made Derry its hunting ground, emerging from the sewers every 27 years to feed on the terrors of Derry’s children.
Researchers have opined that coulrophobia, albeit not officially recognized as a phobia, and remaining unlisted in the World Health Organization or in the American Psychiatric Association library of disorders, is deeply linked to the phenomenon of the “Uncanny Valley.” The Valley is a phenomenon whereby something is made to look human and is incredibly so, but just really isn’t quite there yet. This effect is often found in humanoid robots, sex dolls, ventriloquist dummies, and clowns. It makes your skin crawl. It makes you feel incredibly, unsettlingly weird.
This is the territory where Skarsgard anchors his very physical, intimidating performance. He sets off all your alarm bells at the lowest level and yet provides no rational explanation as to why he disturbs you.
So you dismiss those red flags. It’s a damn funny clown, for crying out loud! Slapstick and boppy nose. Why be afraid of it? The huge hair, the big smile, and the saccharine jolliness can all turn sour in a blink. The performance seduces you into letting your guard down. It’s a trap. And Pennywise is a masterful lure hunter.
Will the kids of the Loser’s Club have enough grit and courage to defeat the ancient evil? Who knows? What’s damn sure is that Skarsgard’s Pennywise will make sure you never see a circus clown quite the same way again. Attend to your bathroom needs before you enter the cinema. And try to bring a friend.
“It” is rated R-13 by the MTRCB, and is now showing in cinemas, distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.