Director: Andres Muschietti
Starring: Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Nicholas Hamilton
Words: Carly Stevenson
27 years after the 1990 miniseries aired, Warner Bros have finally reanimated Pennywise the Dancing Clown to terrify horror fans and coulrophobics again – this time on the big screen.
Although Andy Muschietti’s revival is not radically different to the ‘original’, the slick visual effects enhance the film’s shock-value ten-fold, without reducing the horror to a series of jumpy moments. The use of unnerving jerky movements and CGI monsters is, perhaps, a little overdone at times, yet they arguably mirror the hyperbolic and surreal quality of Stephen King’s prose. Let’s not forget that the book features a bonkers sequence in which the protagonists use an ancient ritual to enter the mind and body of It in an attempt to work out how such a being can be defeated.
Muschietti’s film omits the trippy sci-fi elements from the book (for now) to focus on friendship, which becomes a force that weakens It’s hold over the characters. ‘The Losers Club’ are an immensely likeable ensemble of outcasts, whose personal demons interact with the nightmarish hallucinations conjured by It.
Like all of King’s novels, relatable characters are the backbone of the narrative, and the film stays true to this principle. The characters each have a distinct personality, making sure we are emotionally invested in their journey as a group and as individuals. Even the generic bully Henry Bowers has a vaguely sympathetic backstory; his dysfunctional relationship with his violent father awakens a different kind of monster in him, which Pennywise exploits in an effort to eliminate the threat posed by ‘The Losers’.
Bill Skarsgard is unrecognisable in the role of Pennywise. The makeup department have done an excellent job of camouflaging his otherwise pleasant face and transforming him into a walking nightmare. Even if you’re not particularly afraid of clowns, prepare to be unsettled by the sight of balloons after seeing this film. The day after It premiered, I found myself physically freezing at the innocent sight of a pedestrian clutching a handful of balloons. It only took me a few seconds to realise that she had obviously purchased them from the nearby joke shop, but the image still made my stomach flip. Such is the power of this latest incarnation of Pennywise (though, as someone who was traumatised by the mere sight of Tim Curry on the holographic VHS of the 1990 version, I admit that I’m probably more susceptible to such a visceral reaction than the average film-goer).
Like Netflix’s Stranger Things, It pushes all the late-80s nostalgia buttons. In keeping with the novel and the miniseries, the events take place in the fictional town of Derry, Maine – a seemingly cursed town inhabited by questionable parents and wayward kids. However, a crucial temporal displacement has been made in order to bring Pennywise into the present day: the film is set entirely in the late 80s. Altering the timeline was a bold move, but undoubtedly a sensible one for the sake of coherence; it would have been difficult to replicate the novel’s structure, which alternates between the 50s (when The Losers are kids) and the 80s (when they are adults). Chances are, the next filmic chapter will strike a very different tone.
At the risk of sounding pretentious and predictable, screen adaptations are seldom as scary as the books they follow, simply because our imaginations are capable of conceiving far greater horrors than any Hollywood production can muster. Nevertheless, Muschietti’s version stays as close to King’s novel as an adaptation feasibly can, without compromising on pace. The impeccable opening scene faithfully echoes King’s writing without stagnating over the finer details. This sleek, dreamlike sequence owes much of its poignancy to Benjamin Wallfisch’s haunting score, which has a distinctly Spielberg-esque quality.
For many viewers, particularly younger ones, this will be their first encounter with It, and so the inevitable question on everyone’s mind is: does it sink or float? It is difficult – if not impossible – to avoid making pointed comparisons between an adaptation and its previous versions, but for the sake of new audiences, we must try to distance Muschietti’s version from previous manifestations.
It has many merits: a strong cast of promising young actors, characters you actually care about, genuinely disquieting thrills and, most importantly, a self-referential quality that allows the film to succeed where other re-adaptations in recent years have failed.