UK Release Date: 8th September 2017
Runtime: 135 minutes
Director: Andy Muschietti
Writer: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman
Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs
Synopsis: A group of outsider kids in a small American town find themselves being terrorised by some sort of sinister demon that takes the form of their worst fears and often appears as a grinning, malevolent clown.
The notion of a three-hour horror film is a bizarre one, but that has not stopped the 1990 miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s clown-based novel It from becoming a cult classic. Tim Curry’s snarling, silly performance as Pennywise the Dancing Clown inspired an epidemic of coulrophobia and arguably led to the bizarre craze for ‘killer clowns‘ that swept the globe late last year. A remake seemed inevitable and, after a circuitous path to the big screen, it has now arrived courtesy of Mama director Andy Muschietti. It’s a rare example of a scary movie that is big, mainstream and widely adored – a bona fide horror blockbuster.
In the small town of Derry, Maine, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) is left traumatised when his younger brother is murdered by a demon in the form of a clown, known as Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). Bill soon experiences visions of Pennywise and similar visions begin to plague his friends, including Bev (Sophia Lillis), hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and brash blowhard Richie (Finn Wolfhard). The group is joined by overweight outcast Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and history enthusiast Mike (Chosen Jacobs) – all of whom are also suffering from Pennywise’s mischievous antics. Together the group members call themselves ‘The Losers Club’ and vow to take down the clown.
There are a number of shrewd creative choices at play in It, but the most obvious is that it abandons the generational cross-cutting of the novel and the miniseries. This focuses entirely on the younger portion of the narrative, transposing the setting from the 1950s to the 1980s – in a clear nod to the nostalgia of something like Stranger Things or the homage filmmaking of Adam Wingard and David Robert Mitchell. The result is as much a coming-of-age story in the vein of King’s own Stand By Me or the more recent Kings of Summer as it is a bone-chilling exercise in button-pushing horror.
Andy Muschietti’s film, which clocks in at a lengthy two and a half hours, wisely chooses to spend as much of that time as possible with the kids. They could easily have been shoehorned into archetypes and it initially seems to be the case, but the script is more intelligent than that and gives all of the characters room to breathe and grow. Sophia Lillis, in particular, delivers a firecracker of a performance, comfortably playing Bev as a confident being among the boys and as a terrified victim of an abusive father. Jaeden Lieberher delivers his best performance yet as Bill and special praise must also go to Finn Wolfhard, of Stranger Things fame, who is the most convincingly annoying boastful best friend since Jay from The Inbetweeners.
The most talked-about element of It, though, is of course Bill Skarsgård as the central nightmare figure of Pennywise the Clown. His take on the character is every bit as comedic as Tim Curry’s was, but every movement and line of dialogue is laced with a sinister edge. He’s less outwardly fun-loving than Curry and it seems as if the more amusing touches to his personality simply exist to add yet another layer of terror to his persona. As the glue holding everything in the film together, his is a performance destined to be remembered as a classic horror villain.
It is not a particularly terrifying horror movie and there will almost certainly be scarier films in cinemas this year. However, it’s the perfect middle ground between pure cinematic terror and the more restrained spooky tone required to straddle the mainstream market. Most importantly, its coming of age narrative resonates even outside of the ghost train scares and there are some genuinely brave creative decisions in the final act to ensure that this is one blockbuster movie that has a seriously dark heart.
Pop or Poop?
One of Stephen King’s most memorable works has been brought to the big screen in the shape of a glossy, epic horror film that knows when to dial up the scares and when to switch the focus to the enviable chemistry between the talented members of its young cast. The adults stepping into the roles for the inevitable sequel will have some huge clown shoes to fill.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.