In theaters now is the horror movie It, adapted from the 1,138 page Stephen King novel of the same name.
The story of a small town tormented by a demon in the form of a killer clown has already broken box office records, scaring up an estimated $117.1 million. This has made It not only the largest opening for a horror movie ever, but the largest opening for any film debuting in the month of September.
It opens on a foreboding rainy night, where older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) dispatches out to young Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) via walkie-talkie as the two track a sailing paper boat floating down their neighborhood’s street gutter, which then falls down a storm drain to a pair of unblinking eyes and curious voice alluring Georgie inside. This is the presence of the unsettling Pennywise the clown (Bill Skarsgård), whose blood-red lipstick runs up the corners of his mouth and under his eyes. Pennywise befriends Georgie and then suddenly, the two disappear. A year later, Bill is still preoccupied with finding his younger brother who he can’t admit is gone for good. When it’s realized by Bill and his friends that other kids in town also went missing that year – along with other freaky occurrences – the group decides to take matters into their own hands and hunt down the clown.
If kids going missing due to other-worldly evil brings to mind images of Netflix’s streaming smash-success, Stranger Things, you wouldn’t be wrong. I’d bet more than a few Pennywise pennies that this movie’s filmmakers (directed by Andy Muschietti) didn’t exactly shy away from tapping into the Emmy-nominated hit (and yes, the kid in the telescopic eyeglasses is the main kid who hides “Eleven” in his basement from Stranger Things). To say that It benefits from Stranger Things would be more generous to say then that it flat-out lifts the same pop-eighties look and feel of the show (which itself took inspiration from E.T. and The Goonies). This made me think I was just re-sold a bloodier version of the streaming series a few months before season two came out. However, Jaeden Lieberher as the stuttering Bill gives an unexpectedly fine performance, delivering not one false note in this otherwise campy kid-flick (Lieberhar stands out in the sci-fi drama Midnight Special as well). And as Pennywise the clown, Bill Skarsgård (the youngest Skarsgård brother) is able to craft an iconic character all his own, drooling out a balloonist voice that squeaks with cheer before filling with jokery dread that proves to be as scary as any clown we’ve seen on the big screen.
For a movie about kids’ disappearances and a killer clown, this freak-out horror flick ultimately feels more like a kids movie with good heapings of gore and kid-hurled F-bombs than it does an actual adult scary movie…
For a movie about kids’ disappearances and a killer clown, this freak-out horror flick ultimately feels more like a kids movie with good heapings of gore and kid-hurled F-bombs than it does an actual adult scary movie – which is an odd tone to achieve given its R-rating. There’s a certain level of maturity missing here, but what would you expect since the film’s point of view is from protagonists on the cusp of puberty? In fact, the movie probably attributes a large part of its R-rating to the young boys’ expletive-laden buddy banter, which from start to finish provides a lighthearted and humorous counterbalance to the shocking blood-spurting scariness.
It should be said that this reviewer hasn’t read the novel or seen the previous TV-movie, so I came into the movie unaware of Pennywise the clown or what made “It” so memorable that it turned up once more in pop culture. Unfortunately, this adaptation doesn’t do much in the way of showing why it’s become a pop-culture cornerstone in horror. What’s ultimately lacking here, is that past the eighties dress-up, there’s not a cohesive story underneath that really makes sense, or worth the audience even caring what the reason for the evil that exists is except for the fact that it does. There’s a city curfew in place (or one shot of a sign of it), but never any sign of law enforcement in the movie actually ensuring this. In fact, the only adults who we even see in the movie or have a line to speak are all very noticeably weirdo-creepos – country-kooks who make you want to stay away. Are they really in no way tied to the happenings of this clown who only abducts children?
What’s ultimately lacking here is past the eighties dress-up, there’s not a cohesive story underneath that really makes sense, or worth the audience caring why this evil even exists. Maybe we’ll delve deeper in the next outing (a sequel is already being developed), but while It may be lacking in depth, it is still a scarily fun time at the movies.
“It” is rated R for violence/horror, bloody images, and for language. 135 min. Now playing in theaters everywhere.