Long before clown sightings frightened millions during the summer of last year, Stephen King wrote a book about Pennywise the Dancing Clown, one of the horror genre’s most memorable villains. Written in 1986, “It” was adapted into a TV miniseries in 1990, and now Pennywise has returned 27 years later to haunt the big screen in 2017’s “It.” Grossing over $117 million during its opening weekend, “It” is a horror remake that’s actually worth seeing, as it presents a unique take on the classic story.
Taking place in the summer of 1989, “It” features a band of kids, nicknamed The Losers’ Club, who are terrorized by a mysterious entity named Pennywise that can take any form, usually a clown, and create illusions that take advantage of the kids’ worst fears. Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgård, is a clear departure from Tim Curry’s Pennywise of the ’90s miniseries. While the Pennywise of the past was goofy and erratic, this Pennywise is straight-up demonic, with a dark sense of humor. Skarsgård perfectly portrays the devilish nature of the monster clown — just the way he moves his body is enough to creep anyone out.
While Pennywise is the face that everyone in the audience will remember, the meat of the movie comes from The Losers’ Club. Each kid in the group, united by friendship and circumstance, has their own characteristics, personality, and fears. Bill is a good-natured kid with a stutter, dealing with a recent tragedy. Beverly, the only girl in the group, is regularly shamed at school and faces abuse at home. Richie just makes sex jokes. I hesitate to say that any of the kids rise above their respective stereotypes, but the movie does a great job of making the audience care about all of them. It’s easy to make comparisons between The Losers’ Club and the kids from “Stranger Things” (especially since both groups share a common actor in Finn Wolfhard), because both “Stranger Things” and “It” excel at mixing a great cast of child actors and a script that allows them to act and talk like real kids. These characters aren’t merely childish, though. The movie goes beyond pure horror to become a true coming-of-age story as the kids lose their innocence and learn to overcome their own doubts and fears.
Overall, the punch of the movie doesn’t come from any of the characters, but from its directing, editing and special effects. Director Andy Muschietti, who also directed 2013’s “Mama,” is skilled at creating tension and suspense. Most of the film’s scariest moments come when Pennywise isn’t even on the screen. Muschietti, instead of flaunting the giant clown, allows Pennywise to manipulate the world around him, creating visual scares both subtle and in your face, but ones that constantly haunt you.
Another element of the movie that should be noted is its humor, both light and dark. The kids are actually pretty funny, and a lighthearted joke every now and then helps lift the mood when it gets too heavy. Occasionally, the movie leans too hard into the humor and the tone shifts so much, it feels like a different movie.
If “It” was trying to be a story about friendship and overcoming adversity through the strength of the bond between friends, the film succeeded. If the movie was trying to be a horror movie about a reality-warping killer clown, it definitely succeeded. Either way, if you’re at all drawn to either of these stories, “It” is certainly the movie to watch. It manages to be chilling and heartfelt and above all, it just feels true to life — except for the shape-shifting clown.