by Hope Madden
Clowns are fun, aren’t they?
Back in ’86, Stephen King released the novel It, about a bunch of New England kids plagued by a flesh-hungry monster who showed itself as whatever scared them the most. Like, say, a clown.
The basic premise of It is this: little kids are afraid of everything, and that’s just good thinking.
Four years later, It made its way to TV as a miniseries, the first episode of which is one of the most terrifying things ever to grace the small screen, much thanks to the unforgettable presence of Tim Curry as Pennywise the clown.
It’s been 27 years, and as the story itself dictates, the time has come for It to return.
The Derry, Maine “losers club” finds itself in 1988 in this adaptation, an era that not only brings the possibility of Part 2 much closer to present day, but it gives the pre-teen adventures a nostalgic and familiar quality.
Though The Goonies this is not. Nor is it made for TV.
This version shares a lot of tonal qualities with one of the best King adaptations, Stand By Me. Both are bittersweet tales of the early bonds that help you survive your own childhood.
Bill Skarsgård has the unenviable task of following a letter-perfect Curry in the role of Pennywise. Those are some big clown shoes to fill, but Skarsgård is up to the challenge. His Pennywise is more theatrical, more of an exploitation of all that’s inherently macabre and grotesque about clowns.
Is he better than the original? Let’s not get nutty here, but he is great.
He and the kids really make this work. The young cast is led by the always strong Jaeden Lieberher (Midnight Special), and he’s surrounded by very strong support. Sophia Lillis charms as the shiniest gem in the losers’ club, and Finn Wolfhard (that is a name!) is a scream as the foul mouthed class clown Richie.
The almost inexcusably cute Jackson Robert Scott is little, doomed Georgie, he of the yellow slicker.
In keeping with that Eighties theme, both characters cast as minorities—the Jewish Stanely Uris (Wyatt Oleff) and African American “Homeschool” Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs)—are noticeably underwritten.
So, they weren’t perfect, but the team adapting for this go-round got a lot right.
The best Stephen King adaptations are those with writers who know how to prune and refocus. Luckily, newcomer Chase Palmer, longtime horror writer Gary Dauberman and, maybe most importantly, Cary Fukunaga (who wrote Beasts of No Nation) are on it.
The trio streamlines King’s more unwieldy plot turns and bloat, creating a much-appreciated focus.
Director Andy Muschietti shows great instinct for taking advantage of foreground, background and sound. Yes, It relies heavily on jump scares, but Muschietti’s approach to plumbing your fear has more depth than that and he manages your rising terror expertly.