The 1990 ABC adaptation of Stephen King’s “It” was an enjoyable experience thanks to Tim Curry’s performance as the titular evil clown. Nonetheless, the ABC “It” was a flawed, often cheesy experience with little horror. Those hoping for Andy Muschietti’s 2017 version of “It” to improve on its TV counterpart’s flaws can rest easy — this is a darker, wittier take on King’s novel, focusing entirely on the first half of the book and saving the second for a sequel.
Muschietti’s “It” opens on a familiar scene: Little Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) venturing out into a rainy day and encountering It/Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard) in a sewage drain. Skarsgard’s piercing eyes are the first things to emerge from the darkness, followed by his buck-toothed grin and painted white skin. Skarsgard uses an almost-whimsical voice, giving It an air of eccentricity. But his peculiarities have a hostile edge, and it’s clear that this clown, along with the rest of the movie, has far more bite than Curry’s portrayal.
Georgie dies gruesomely at the hands of It and his body vanishes, leaving his stuttering older brother, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), guilt-ridden for failing to protect him. Bill refuses to believe Georgie is dead, and he spends the summer with his friends searching their town for clues about his disappearance. The highly-inappropriate Richie (Finn Wolfhard), the cowardly Stan (Wyatt Oleff) and the frail Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) disapprove of Bill’s quest, but they tag along against their better judgment.
Around the same time, It pays nightmarish visits to Bill, his friends, new kid Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), school outcast Beverly (Sophia Lillis) and the home-schooled Mike (Chosen Jacobs). It takes his sweet time finishing his rounds, and the sequences vary in their level of terror. While they are each well done, the slow burn squeezes the last half of the film, forcing events to play out more quickly than they should.
“It” also doesn’t abide by the old adage that less is more, choosing instead to throw out all the gory makeup, blood and CGI it can muster. That doesn’t mean the film can’t send chills down your spine — it just overdoes itself on occasion. The scariest scene is a confrontation between a cocky bully and one of Pennywise’s alternate manifestations in a dark sewer. Seeing the terror unfold in brief flashes leaves more up to the imagination and thus ramps up the intensity much more than a full-on fight scene between the clown and the kids.
Eventually, these teens unite to face their common enemy, allowing the young actors to form on screen bonds with palpable chemistry. Their banter routinely lightens the picture, and it occasionally creates a false sense of security. Each boy also forms a crush on Beverly, whose attractiveness is played for laughs. Some drama arises between Bill and Ben as they vie for her affection, but that subplot remains unresolved for the inevitable sequel.
Parents are largely absent from the movie, and when they do show up, they are uncaring or abusive. Bill’s father doesn’t try to understand his feelings about Georgie’s death, while Beverly’s father and Eddie’s mother are possessive, domineering figures. The kids can only count on themselves to save their town from Pennywise, and because they have to face danger alone, they are forced to overcome their past trauma.
On several occasions, the stilted dialogue heavy-handedly relays the film’s theme of fear, but the movie’s talented young leads make it a moving and heartfelt experience. “It” blends the DNA of HBO’s adaptation with “Stand by Me” to terrific effect, and the ending will surely get butts in seats for the sequel.
- Running Time: 135 minutes
- MPAA Rating: R
- Score: 3.5/5 stars