Clowns are scary. We can all agree on that. Well, what do you think about a clown that lives in the sewers and eats children? Even more scary, right? Of course. Stephen King’s IT is able to grab your childhood fears and amplify them into a nightmare you won’t be able to easily walk away from.
It’s the story of how a band of young kids in Derry, Maine called “The Losers” set out to find out who, or rather what, murdered the brother of their leader. What they discover is that every 27 years a terrible clown creature awakes and terrorizes their small town and now their curiosity has drawn them into It’s terrifying orbit.
The movie’s cast is, by and large, quite good but the two stand out performances were Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things fame rounding out “The Losers” as Richie Tozier. This is character the audience can believe in. Bill Skarsgard’s portrayal of Pennywise the Dancing Clown brings in a bit of Heath Ledger’s Joker and a bit of Sid Haig’s Captain Spaulding into a delightfully terrifying mix while also capitalizing on Skarsgard’s 6’4 height. The film could have shaved off some of the CGI and simply let Skarsgard eat all the scenery he could, but in the end, the result is still pretty satisfying.
Argentine film director and screenwriter Andrés Muschietti (Mama) puts together a solid update of the vision of the King novel. This version jettisons the adult incarnations of the characters to focus on the protagonist’s experiences as children. This is where the movie evokes the best kind of “Stand by Me” meets “Salem’s Lot” deja vu, but the familiarity is a welcome kind with just enough divergence to keep the audience happy. Unlike the book where the kids are products of the 1950s, we are presented with a more updated version of the children who are arguably far more foul-mouthed and sophisticated. Instead of going on a journey to see a dead body, their odyssey comes to a creepy clown-filled end.
Conservative critics of the film will say all the liberal clichés about what life in small town America is all about are plentiful in this production. Perhaps the usual smears of the bitter, clinging, deplorable small town folk who also menace King’s small town should be recognized as occasionally shady, often nefarious in their intent, and almost always never helpful when the chips are down. King has been slinging the same liberal sentiments for years so his politics should come as no surprise to anybody. There is no mistaking King has lived the small town Maine life and his chronicles of it across the spectrum of his works always seems to ring true. King can paint a compelling Rockwell-esque panorama of small time life. When juxtaposed with the terror and loathing King is able to inject, the product is almost always going to be of the highest quality. It fits the bill.