Stephen King is somewhat of a mogul when it comes to book-to-screen material. He has plenty of content that has been adapted to both the big screen and the small screen. In 1990 the original adaptation of King’s novel, IT, starring Tim Curry, made a permanent mark in the horror genre and gave kids more reasons to hate and fear clowns. And with it being 27 years since the original IT came out in a two-part mini-series, and since Pennywise returns every 27 years, it’s the perfect time to reinvent the demonic, child-eating clown, and director Andy Muschietti (Mama) was definitely up for the challenge.
WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD
IT is a story centered on a group of young children, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff). The kids form “The Losers Club” and are all terrorized by Pennywise, the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard). All these leading kids do an incredible job in their performances. Every character has levels to them and they’re given the appropriate amount of attention for us to see how each one is unique. Jaeden Lieberher does a great job showing the depth of despair and loneliness Bill feels after losing his brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). Plus his stutter was believable and not at all forced or made out to be comedic in the slightest.
Perhaps the real standout in this cast, I have to say, was Sophia Lillis. Throughout the movie her character is faced with some real troubling and dark things, not only is a demon clown trying to terrorize her but her pedophilic/abusive father, as well her rumored reputation of being a whore around school. Her character has to deal with some pretty traumatic themes and scenes, and Sophia handles it all with the utmost competence. She was a showstopper and I can’t wait to see what she becomes later in her career, I think she has a great one ahead of her.
And now moving on to who we all really wanted to see: Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise the clown. This interpretation of Pennywise was clearly darker, more monstrous side. But it worked really well. You could tell when he speaks that he’s not of this world and he’s really giving his closest approximation of human behavior. Bill does a wonderful job setting himself apart from Tim Curry’s Pennywise, and I respect that very much. He was more menacing, but also darkly comedic in some key areas. I was 5 or 6 years old when I saw the original IT and it stuck with me for a while, but here I never felt truly irked by this clown. It’s obviously a different interpretation and I’m much older now and have a true respect for films on a deep level. In all, I don’t think this Pennywise will be one to stick into people’s minds and scar them like Tim Curry did for many. I’m not comparing though, Bill did a great job; I think it’s just the style of the films.
The film takes place in the late 80s, so obviously, some artistic themes and arcs that were popular in movies back then were very present, to begin with. Perhaps the most identifiable 80s cliché was the over-the-top bully, Henry (Nicholas Hamilton), and his gang of mean boys. He wasn’t given a clear motive as to why he does what he does until towards the end of the movie, but at that point, he falls under Pennywise’s control. At several points, I felt he was just more of an annoyance than anything else. You’ll be asking yourself, “Really? Do you not have anything better to do, psychopath?” But regardless of the cliché bullies in the film, IT is very well written. The kids all felt real, their banter felt real (I talked a lot like those kids when I was their age), and the writing and attention given to each character and their life were very compelling.
One thing that holds the film back from being a potential landmark horror film is the awkward pacing throughout. There are a lot of moments of anxiety wrenching horror since each kid is singled out by Pennywise at some point and shown their living fears. In too many instances we are just shuffled along to the next bit, not being allowed to settle into our fear. In those instances the film actively sabotaged itself. And then some more with tension-breaking one-liners that have no business being there. I felt frustrated with the composition of the film far too often.
Aside from missed writing or editing bits, there is a lot to marvel at in IT. Scenery and costumes were lovely. The cinematography and direction were impeccable. They managed to capture moments of dark horror and blend elements of a youthful, bright coming-of-age story. There really is plenty for every moviegoer. But where the movie shines, it may feel a bit “done before”. Especially with the popular series Stranger Things, which draws a lot from Stephen King horror and character themes. People may feel the film often repeats things we’ve all seen, but I don’t think it takes away from the film too much.