Evan Minniti culture editor
Based on the first half of Stephen King’s legendary 1986 novel, “It” takes place in 1980s Maine, and follows a group of outcast children who must fight back against a reawakened ancient cosmic evil in the form of a psychotic clown who is hell-bent on murdering them. A lot of blood, terror, humor and surprising emotional heart follow.
With an impressive cast of child actors and a sharp screenplay, partly penned by “True Detective”’s Cary Joji Fukunaga, which includes enough f-bombs to be kicked out of school, “It”’s main characters are utterly believable as real children. Banding together as the Losers’ Club, the seven kids meld their own personal struggles together in a fight for survival. Beverly Marsh, played by Sophia Lillis, is arguably the most compelling. Her friendship with the Losers is her only solace from both It’s terror, but also her sexually abusive father. The other most compelling character is Bill, played Jaeden Lieberher, the main protagonist. He has already lost his little brother to It, giving him another stake in his fight, even if he only subconsciously realizes it.
However, Bill Skarsgard is chilling as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, It’s main physical form. Even though he isn’t as funny as Tim Curry’s version, he is a lot more terrifying. Skarsgard turns Pennywise onto the same level of psychotically over-the-top villainy as Heath Ledger’s Joker from “The Dark Knight” or Iwan Rheon’s Ramsay Bolton from “Game of Thrones”. Despite taking a physical form as an evil clown, Pennywise bends reality to both terrify and supervise his victims. He enjoys psychologically torturing his victims, and by extent, the audience too.
What makes “It” work so well is the symbiotic balance between story and the horror. For instance, when Pennywise explodes blood all over Beverly’s bathroom, Beverly’s father can’t notice the blood. The outside world can’t help them because they aren’t even aware of Pennywise’s existence. So what becomes scary is not the blood covering the walls, but that the Losers are on their own. The horror doesn’t act as a way to season the story with a few scares, but as a way to propel it forward.
Ultimately, “It” is more than just a scary clown movie. Like King’s story, “It” is a scathing indictment of the hypocrisy of abusive parents, a moving story of growing up, coming to terms with loss and facing the inevitability of death. Though not directly paralleling every event that happens in his novel, “It” successfully carries out a much harder task: effectively translating King’s themes to the big screen. Though “It” may not be attractive to non-horror fans, it would be criminal to miss this movie while it is still in theatres.