By Patrick Basler and Lillian Andemicael
Most boys spend their summers riding bikes around town, relaxing at the beach or chasing love interests. When you're that young, you feel like you're going to live forever. But the kids in Andy Muschietti's It adaptation felt quite the opposite when they spent their summer fighting off individual traumas and the infamous Pennywise the Dancing Clown.
It draws upon the anxieties of a group of young children, collectively referred to as "The Losers Club" by the most sociopathic bullies I've ever seen in a film, led by crazed and troubled bad-boy Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton). These schoolyard bullies don't just terrorize their victims with harsh taunts or allusions to the untimely death of our lead's younger brother — they literally torture middle schoolers.
The film has its moments of genuine suspense, building dread in the viewer by reminding them just why they were afraid of the dark and unknown as a child. The young Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott) falls to his graphic demise in the film's opening scenes, and one thing becomes abundantly clear: This movie doesn't fuck around.
Georgie's older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) somehow manages to convince a group of prepubescent kids to follow him on his quest to find his lost brother, convinced that he is still in the storm drain that "dragged" him in. His friends Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Richie (Finn Wolfhard) and lastly, Beverly (Sophia Lillis), reluctantly agree to help him, as they are all terrorized by their own apparitions. The film's fright factor did not quite live up to the hype, but the humorous lines delivered by charismatic young faces added a pleasant comedic relief to the movie.
Fans of Stephen King's novels would agree that attempts to bring the author's macabre concepts from page to screen are hit-or-miss. Trying to condense a book that's over 1,000 pages into a 135-minute long film is an ambitious task, especially given King's willingness to criticize adaptations of his works. You would think with such consistent horror sequences, the film would feel menacing, but the constant gore eventually felt gimmicky and shallow.
Yet because the young cast effortlessly captures both the fun and turmoil in coming of age, coupled with the nightmarish visions the children suffer, the film is still worth seeing. Expect to jump at cheap jump scares, cover your eyes at the ghoulish transformation of the typically dreamy Bill Skarsgård and feel an unexpected emotional void by the end of the film.
To be honest, I don't have a lot of experience with killer clowns. In fact, I somehow managed to spend my entire childhood biking around the neighborhood with my friends and still never ran into a murderous jester with six rows of sharp teeth and a taste for human flesh. No, all I ever ran into was some poison ivy.
Unfortunately, the gang of nerdy kids at the center of Stephen King's It weren't as lucky — they somehow managed to run into Pennywise the Dancing Clown not once, but literally dozens and dozens of times in the film's 2-hour runtime. And even if I couldn't relate to the whole clown thing, I certainly found it as terrifying as those kids did.
On its surface, It shouldn't really be that good. It's a horror remake of a made-for-TV miniseries from the '90s, which itself is based on a 1,000-word Stephen King novel. That's a lot of room for shit to go wrong, but somehow It is not only frightening, but also intense, well-made and, most importantly, a fun movie.
There's not a ton going on in terms of plot. There's a killer clown in a small town and kids are going missing. After our group of young heroes figures out what's going on, the clown comes after them, and they have to fight/survive/scream. Pretty standard stuff.
While there are some normal movie character-building scenes — Beverly, the only girl of the group, has an abusive father, for instance — functionally, It is more like going to a haunted house. The movie is crammed with scares, either from Pennywise himself or various dreamlike illusions. Each scene is like another room in the house, with something new to terrify you. In between, there's just enough downtime for you to re-open your eyes, shift in your seat and forget that this movie isn't The Sandlot.
While it's a simple trick, and it makes the film a tad shallow, it's incredibly effective — just ask the guy next to me who watched the movie in the fetal position. Even though you know something is coming up VERY soon, you're never quite sure what it is or how it will happen. The sheer quantity of jump scares means that if you're a horror film frequent flyer (hello!) then you'll get used to it. But if you're not, It is probably the scariest movie your friends will talk you into seeing this year.
Of course, it's not all brutal homicides and terrifying twists — It also has the hilarious charm of many "kids in the '80s" flicks. The characters are all likable and unique, and they say wacky kid things that will make you "LOL" Out Loud. And whereas the movie's structure is simple and shallow, the characters are what brings it to life. Because if these characters feel real, so does their fear.
And so does what they're afraid of — a killer clown.
CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that It is based off a 1,000-word Stephen King novel. The film is based off a 1,000-page Stephen King novel.