If you have a crippling phobia of clowns do not go see this movie. Otherwise, let’s talk about this Stephen King adaptation which currently has an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes.
It is about Pennywise the Clown, an entity that terrorizes the town of Derry, Maine, every 27 years. A group of children which makes up our main characters spend the movie discovering what he is and finding ways to kill him.
First of all, every actor in this movie does an amazing job. The child actors all turn in performances that would rival Stranger Things (Finn Wolfhard being a cast member of that series as well) and give the impression that their characters are actual kids. The MVP for the children, however, is Sophia Lillis who plays Bev. This may partly be because she has the most defined story arc of any of the children and manages to improve her life throughout the film, but Lillis manages to convey the pain that her character has to live through on a daily basis.
The adult characters are pretty standard and don’t have much to do with the plot. The most notable is probably Eddy’s mother who, though extremely selfish, is grounded enough to be believable. By contrast this same character in the 1990 miniseries was insufferable and I couldn’t wait for her to be offscreen. No one’s seeing this movie for the adult characters of Derry, however.
Bill Skarsgard does an excellent job as Pennywise and is one of the scariest clowns I’ve seen in cinema. His voice is menacing and his physical acting conveys his inhuman aspects. His makeup was especially good, and the makeup department for this picture deserves some kind of recognition for achieving the Uncanny Valley effect. He and the writing surrounding his character build suspense for when he inevitably attacks, and in one or two scenes the creepiness of this buildup is sustained and enhanced as he takes action.
That, however, is part of the problem. There are clear jump scares throughout the movie which, though MUCH better done than a lot of horror movies today, give the whole film a feel more akin to a standard horror movie instead of having its own identity. Skarsgard is a scary clown, but It was more terrifying when taking on other, unexpected forms like the figure from a painting. He works great if you want a villain more like Jason Vorhees with scarier imagery, but Tim Curry in the 1990 miniseries, though not scary, was a lot more entertaining and unique in this role.
As a result, if it wasn’t for the fact that this was based on a famous book by a famous author adapted into an infamous miniseries, It would just be an above-average horror movie. It‘s main achievement isn’t groundbreaking storytelling or psychological, unsettling horror, but its competence. This feature successfully captures the more serious tone that a full horror movie should aim for compared to the miniseries, but that should be standard when the goal is fear. The most unsettling part for me was the indifference of the town towards the events taking place in it, something I wish had been given more attention.
There are two directions that I think It could have taken to make it stand out more. The first as I briefly mentioned would have been more of an examination of how Pennywise is treated with indifference, creating a despairing, hopeless atmosphere for the children to the point that they don’t see any way to survive short of killing him. I believe that this could have drawn the audience in more and left more of an impression.
The second option, I think, would have been to make Bev the central character of the movie. As I said, she has the most engaging story and, with more of a focus on her by slightly tweaking the screenplay, the audience would be more emotionally invested when she was in danger. By dividing the time among an ensemble cast we care about more characters but less than we would about a central protagonist, drawing us in less.
Altogether, this is actually a decent movie and I would recommend seeing it at some point, but it’s not a necessity. I am planning on seeing the sequel and am curious if there will be more attention given to the areas I thought could use more development. If you like Stranger Things you’ll definitely enjoy it.
Rating: 3.5/5 ★★★1/2