Film review: It – on big screen, Stephen King’s demonic clown makes a striking impression
Featuring some of the best young actors around, film adaptation of first half of King’s story of tormented teenagers in small-town America is frequently scary, always absorbing and affectionately nostalgic
Adapted from one of Stephen King’s most successful and popular horror stories, It follows a group of small-town teenagers tormented by a demonic clown. While he has “updated” the story from the 1950s to the ’80s, director Andy Muschietti (Mama) mostly avoids the current fad for fetishising that particular decade, instead creating palpable tension and genuine camaraderie among his young cast.
Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) discovers that his friends have all been experiencing similar visions, of a clown called Pennywise that lives in the sewers of Derry and feeds on their greatest fears. Suspecting “it” might be responsible for a spate of missing children cases, including that of Bill’s little brother, they vow to stop it once and for all.
It incorporates many of King’s favourite themes, including childhood trauma, supernatural horror and small-town Americana. Its characters are bullied and persecuted, both by peers and parents – attitudes manifested in the visions Pennywise uses to subdue and devour his victims. While some of the nuance in the novel’s 1,200 pages is inevitably lost in a two-hour film, Muschietti succeeds in creating a believable world, where adults exist only as peripheral authority figures or tormentors.
The excellent cast features some of the best young talent around, including Lieberher (Midnight Special), Finn Wolfhard (Netflix’s Stranger Things) and Nicholas Hamilton ( Captain Fantastic ), as well as Sophia Lillis as the gang’s token girl. Bill Skarsgard, son of Stellan, plays the fiendishly despicable Pennywise.
As in the hugely popular two-part 1990 TV movie version, Muschietti’s It divides King’s novel in half, focusing solely on the characters as 13-year-olds. A second film, set when the creature returns to Derry 27 years later, has been promised, but is yet to go into production. Coincidentally, the TV version of It debuted 27 years ago.
Back in 1990, the second half failed to match the strength of the first, and it remains to be seen whether history will repeat itself – although, based on Muschietti’s solid work here, a follow-up film seems inevitable now. It is one of the best horror remakes in recent memory: the film is frequently scary (especially for coulrophobics) and always absorbing, with a measured yet affectionate nostalgia for the period.
It opens on September 7
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