An evil entity haunts a small Maine town every 27 years in the form of a killer clown in the horror film ‘It.’ Warner Bros.
The infamous clown is plenty freaky, though it’s the youngsters, bursting with hormones and one-liners, who make It one of the better Stephen King adaptations.
As directed by Andy Muschietti (Mama), It (*** out of four; rated R; in theaters nationwide Friday) has definite scare-fest qualities — sorry, Tim Curry, Bill Skarsgård is now the quintessential Pennywise. But it’s more a small-town adventure for seven kids in Derry, Maine, who wear their Losers’ Club nickname with honor. Though it’s a little long and doesn’t perfectly execute its grand ambitions, the movie emphasizes the story’s nuanced coming-of-age sentiment rather than being all horror, all the time, capturing the low-key brilliance of King’s writing.
It smartly changes time periods from the 1986 novel, which places its young characters in the ‘50s. The film is set in 1989, with Batman playing at the local theater, and each member of the Losers’ Club is struggling with something: a creepy dad, an overprotective mom or getting hazed as the new kid in school.
Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) has it worst: He’s still wrecked by his little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) going missing eight months ago. While taking a paper boat for spin in a downpour, Georgie became a victim of Pennywise, the dancing clown who’s a malevolent incarnation of a dark force that returns every 27 years.
Some in the Losers’ Club are visited by Pennywise, others by a different fear-inducing creature — a twisted, Edvard Munch-esque monstrosity playing a flute is seriously chilling. Having a supernatural archenemy is simply adding one more problem to the lives of the 13-year-olds: Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is a gentle-hearted husky guy who feels out of place and harbors a secret crush; Mike (Chosen Jacobs) continues to be haunted by the fire that took his parents; motor-mouthed Richie (Finn Wolfhard) uses puerile humor and cursing to hide insecurities; Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) grapples with severe hypochondria; Stan (Wyatt Oleff) feels religious pressure from his Jewish parents; and Beverly (Sophia Lillis) can’t overcome her bad reputation.
They band together to face Pennywise, whom Skarsgård excellently portrays as part unnerving Ronald McDonald type and part hellish serial killer. Bucktoothed and cartoon-voiced, the clown burrows under the skin and just stays there. In one scene, he emerges from the bushes, all smiles as he giddily waves a bloody ripped-off arm.
With plenty of gallows humor, as well as kid banter and inside jokes, It boasts a clever sense of humor throughout its 2¼ hours. The film suffers from a couple of unneeded subplots that derail momentum, but the ending is filled with tension and satisfaction, the result of investing in the teenage protagonists.
You don’t root for the Losers’ Club just because you’re supposed to — each kid has a complete arc and time to shine as well as mess things up. The cast of mostly unknowns is spectacular from top to bottom; Taylor and Lillis are especially effective with performances that touch the soul.
Enjoy them while you can. One slightly unfortunate bit is that the next chapter of It —Muschietti wisely isn’t shoehorning a 1,138-page tome into one movie — focuses on the Losers’ Club as adults. At least we’ll still have the clown, who totally floats our boat.