Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Bill Skarsgård
Rated R for violence/horror, bloody images, and for language
2 hrs. 15 min.
Sorry to use this cliché but I just can’t help myself. “He’s backkkkk,” or better to say, It is back. Sorry, Mr. Spielberg.
That’s right. Pennywise the butchering clown rises once more from the sewers of Derry, Maine, to terrorize the town’s children.
Is this timely or what? After all, it’s been 27 years since the last It premiered as a television series. According to town legend, 27 years is the cycle when Pennywise returns. Coincidence? I think not.
It’s 1988. Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) and his younger brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) are working together on a paper-hat sailboat. A proud Georgie launches the boat in a street gutter during a rainstorm and watches it roll into a storm drain.
As Georgie peers down the drain hole, up pops the painted face of Pennywise the clown (Bill Skarsgård), who politely offers to return the boat. When Georgie decides to reach down the drain, the consequences are horrendous.
The following summer, Bill grieves for his lost brother, but Georgie is not the only kid in town gone missing. What Bill and his gang of friends can’t understand is why nobody in Derry seems to care. It’s as if the town has come to accept that it’s under a child-stealing curse.
Strange appearances begin for Bill and his friends, including newcomers Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and burgeoning beauty Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis). Each appearance is connected to that child’s greatest fear. Even stranger, none of their parents or friends seem to notice. Library rat Ben reveals to the group that it’s been 27 years since the last round of disappearances, and now they all realize. Pennywise has returned to claim his pound of flesh.
For Bill and company, the challenge is to confront Pennywise and discover where he’s stashed the missing children. For Bill, it’s even more personal: He wants his brother back and he’s determined to invade the town’s sewers to find him.
Argentinian director Andy Muschietti joins a long line of great Mexican, Spanish and fellow Argentinian directors who use horror as a means of exploring human fear and suffering. I mention this because It could easily be your standard Stephen King remake, with plenty of blood and not much else going for it.
Muschietti ensures, however, that the horror and the humanity of this story are both terrifying. He undergirds Pennywise’s savagery with the tragedy of children who suffer from physical, sexual and psychological abuse. Muschietti parallels Bill and his friends, already tormented by family and schoolmates, with the terror of Pennywise, who utilizes their fear to his advantage.
And yet this film is offset by humor, particularly from the hyperactive lips of Bill’s friend, bespeckled Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), whose raw observations are both a shock and well-timed comedic relief. These are young teenagers after all, exploring their personal and sexual identities. Richie crassly points out what they’re thinking, especially when the boys are hypnotized by Beverly’s scantily clad body.
It takes risks and pushes the boundaries of film horror in the same way that King the author uses his books to push our reading boundaries. In this manner, Muschietti does King a great service, even if the story itself does not always fit neatly together or follow the book. Despite the holes in the story and the unanswered plot questions, It manages to creepily entertain the audience from start to finish. Muschietti skillfully leads us down the sewer. He entertains us and digs under the surface for the rough edges of love, lust, humor and fear.
With It, we can add another classic horror film to our shelves. Yes, the creepy clown is back. Yes, he’s a bad dude. Clowns of the world will not be happy about this. Then again, Pennywise doesn’t care who complains, as long as you keep feeding him.