It begins in 1988, in the New England hamlet of Derry, Maine, when Billy Denbrough’s little brother Georgie is lured into a storm drain by a creepy clown (or rather, a shape-shifting demon that favors the seductive guise of Pennywise the Dancing Clown).
A year later, the boys’ parents have given the missing child up for dead, but Billy desperately believes that his brother could still be found and convinces his misfit friends Richie, Eddie, and Stanley to help him search The Barrens, the town’s vast and intricate sewer system. They’re joined in their noble pursuit by an equally-ostracized trio of put-upons: Mike, a poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks; Ben, who hides in the library to escape the mullet-headed town bully; and Beverly, a gutsy Molly Ringwald type. Fortunately, Ben’s enforced time behind books has led him to discover that the town has a history of strange disappearances (every 27 years!).
Stephen King’s popular horror novel was first turned into a TV miniseries in 1990; It starred The Waltons‘ Richard Thomas as Bill and Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) as Pennywise. Now (27 years later!), Andy Muschietti—the director of 2013’s old-school scare-a-thon Mama—has been entrusted with taking a crack at a redo. And a fine job he does too. Muschietti orchestrates many a spooky set piece, often centered around the killer clown but not always, and it’s refreshing to watch a scary movie that relies solely on creep-outs and jump shots for its horror element. A key strength, of course, is the deliciously demented performance from Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise, who somehow manages to pull off true menace beneath his ghoulish make-up.
Amongst the film’s considerable charms are the magnificent seven of loser-heroes brought to life by a septet of likeable young actors, including Jaeden Lieberher as Billy, Sophia Lillis as Bev, and Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben. Also effective are author King’s familiar themes: ordinary people coming together to achieve extraordinary things (The Stand, The Dark Tower); the victimization of the weak by the strong (Dolores Claiborne, The Green Mile); and the eternal battle of good vs. evil (Needful Things, The Talisman).
Stephen King’s prolific outpourings of short stories, novellas, and full-length novels have spawned a multitude of adaptations over the years, on film, on television, even on the stage. Quite a few of the cinematic versions have impressed—Carrie, The Shining, Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, and Misery for starters. With carefully-crafted chills, well-developed and likeable characters, a killer villain, and a strong storyline, It deserves a place in those illustrious ranks.
(c) 2017 David N. Butterworth