The 1990 TV-safe adaptation of Stephen King’s “It” is well regarded if only for Tim Curry’s strangely endearing performance as Pennywise The Dancing Clown. Even though Pennywise is a monster who abducts children to turn them into a hot lunch, Curry managed to steal the show and become an odd fan favorite with humor and charm.
The heavily R-rated 2017 version of “It” has no interest in making Pennywise a pleasant screen presence. In fact, director Andy Muschietti seems hell-bent on making your skin crawl for every single second that Bill Skarsgard’s terrifying painted face appears on screen. This damn clown and its many mind games are significant enough to keep your tank filled with nightmare fuel for the next decade.
However, the aspect that makes “It” really motor is the coming of age story of the seven teenagers who discover the monster hiding in the sewers. “It” becomes an homage to “The Goonies”, complete with a 1989 setting…but it throws a few severed limbs of 8-year olds in the mix.
The story is propelled forward after Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott) becomes the latest kid to disappear. Several months pass and his older brother, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), refuses to believe that Georgie is dead and he enlists his pals to help him search the sewer system for him.
The gang, lovably called The Losers, have the perfect character elements that virtually guarantees all audiences will immediately be hooked. Once Bill gets them to the sewer entrance, only the foul mouthed Richie (Finn Wolfhard) is ready to go as hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and constant worrier Stan (Wyatt Oleff) want no part of it.
Their delay interrupts Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) as he flees from the town bully, Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton). Henry also just finished harassing Mike (Chosen Jacobs) and just in case you need to hate Henry even more, he bullies Mike for all the disgusting reasons that a white kid would bully a black kid.
All of the kids bond over their mutual treatment from Henry and eventually, Bev Marsh (Sophia Lillis) is added to the gang. This leads to some truly hilarious scenes of wide-eyed young boys gawking at Bev, unsure what to make of her and how she clearly is the most mature person in the group.
But then, one by one, The Losers are introduced to Pennywise via whatever creation scares each of them the most. These scenes are about as tense as a movie can get and the only recovery is a little bit of nervous laughter once they are over.
Until the final scenes, Muschietti successfully applies the “less is scarier” approach to horror and Pennywise is sporadically seen. There is also little CGI used and the majority of the scares are practical effects with some extremely unsettling camera work from cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung.
“It” is only as scary as Bill Skarsgard can make it and he puts in what is surely to become an iconic horror performance. There is nothing endearing about the role and Skarsgard is completely invested in being as freaky as possible. He mumbles and even says a few things in Norwegian, only adding to an already ramped up creep factor.
The kiddos, particularly Wolfhard, Lieberher, and Lillis, are all fantastic. Their chemistry is perfect and it’s a blast to listen to them take shots at one another, which thankfully provides a respite from being completely freaked out. It’s also fun to hear 13-year olds drop F-bombs since that’s what real 13-year olds do.
“It” is set to make a box office fortune. It’s going to get its hooks into every single child of the ‘80s and the sheer adrenaline rush of scares makes “It” perfect for more than one viewing. This is the rare movie that doesn’t need gore and blood to horrify you. The goal of “It” is to haunt you long after its 135 minutes absolutely fly by.