Set in the summer of 1980s in Derry, Maine, the seven kids (Jaeden Lieberher’s Bill, Jeremy Ray Taylor’s Ben, Sophia Lillis’ Beverly, Finn Wolfhard’s Richie, Wyatt Oleff’s Stanley, Chosen Jacobs’ Mike and Jack Dylan Grazer’s Eddie) join forces to face the child-eating clown dubbed Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård).
Clowns are supposed to be a funny character. The kind where they are typically seen in entertaining kids at the birthday party or during a circus act. Well, at least that’s what I thought when I was a kid. Then came a miniseries called Stephen King’s IT where I used to remember it was aired on our local television channel back in the early ’90s. Since then, my initial perception of clowns has changed forever. Clowns are scary after all, thanks to Tim Curry’s frighteningly memorable performance as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. He is no doubt the epitome of a scary clown that remains unsurpassed even by today’s standard.
Now, 27 years later, we finally get a long-overdue big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s popular novel of the same name. At first, I was sceptical about Andy Muschietti being the director who replaced the more promising Cary Fukunaga of 2014 HBO series True Detective and Netflix’s Beasts of No Nation. Besides, Muschietti was the director who made the dreadful Guillermo del Toro-like supernatural horror wannabe, Mama (2013).
Fortunately, four years since that movie, Muschietti shows lots of improvement and finally proved his worth as a competent horror filmmaker in IT. Blessed with an R (18) rating, he successfully captured most of King’s vivid depiction of the novel, particularly in the graphic display of gore and violence. He certainly knows how to ratchet up the tension using an effective mix of shocks and brutality that gives you goosebumps each time Pennywise terrorising the kids. From the use of sound to the imagery displayed on the screen, the horror sequences are both terrifying and intense. Some of the scenes that are bound to be talked about include the shocking opening scene involving Georgie’s (Jackson Robert Scott) ill-fated encounter with Pennywise near the storm drain, as well as the extended set-piece that takes place in an abandoned house. While there is a few jump scares in this movie, they are thankfully executed in a manner that doesn’t feel like a cheap tactic.
Speaking of Pennywise, I’m glad to say that Bill Skarsgård is the right choice for the role. Without comparing to Tim Curry’s version, Skarsgård does an excellent job portraying a scary clown that is both sinister and creepy. He reminds me a lot of Freddy Krueger. And he’s definitely ranked as one of the scariest horror villains in the recent memory. The kids cast are equally great, with standout performances by Jaeden Lieberher as the determined and take-charge Bill Denbrough, Jeremy Ray Taylor as the shy but likeable Ben Hanscom, Sophia Lillis as the tomboyish Beverly Marsh and Finn Wolfhard (Netflix’s Stranger Things) as the bespectacled and foul-mouthed Richie Tozier.
The screenplay, credited to Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman, manages to condense half of King’s 1,138-page novel into a workable 135-minute length (this is the first chapter of the planned two-part movies) that neither feels too long or too short. The seven kids are well established here, while the coming-of-age story has that vintage Spielbergian touch. Except, of course, watching the kids’ copious amount of profanities and sex jokes can be off-putting at times. The decision of changing the original novel’s 1950s timeline to the more relatable 1980s proves to be a smart move. From the background of the movie that shows a cinema playing Batman and Lethal Weapon 2 to the New Kids On The Block music, it sure adds a great sense of nostalgia.
If this turns out to be financially successful enough, I can’t wait to see what Muschietti has in store for the modern-day sequel in the second chapter of IT.