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Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:
Bart: Can't sleep. Clown will eat me.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Send in those soulful and doleful
Rating Using Random Objects Related to the Film: Four Cosmic Turtles out of five.
Tagline: "You'll float too."
Better Tagline: "Relax, everybody: they left out *that scene.*"
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: In the fall of 1988 in Derry, Maine, little Georgie Denbrough goes to play with his paper boat in the rain and is never seen again. Months later, his older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) continues to hope for the best, even if we know Georgie was dragged into the sewers and murdered by Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), who appears to be an evil clown but is improbably something even worse. Bill and his friends, who call themselves the Losers, enlist fellow outcasts Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), and Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) to investigate, and eventually come to realize Pennywise has been killing children in Derry for a very long time indeed. Worse, he’s become aware of their interest.
"Critical" Analysis: In the almost 30 years since the first adaptation of Stephen King’s It, the concept of “evil clown” has pretty much become embedded in the bedrock of public consciousness. This is something of a stretch from the original novel’s intent, in which Pennywise’s clown façade was merely a mask for greater evil (see also: John Wayne Gacy and Ronald McDonald). Now, thanks largely to It, increasingly negative depictions in media, and the inexplicable persistence of ICP, clowns are almost universally reviled.
Unfortunately for the Local Harlequins, Tramps, and Jesters #342 (or whatever), this new version isn’t going to change anybody’s mind. Director Andrés Muschietti (Mama) and screenwriter Gary Dauberman (early drafts were written by Chase Palmer and Cary Fukunaga) have delivered what will likely be viewed as not only the definitive version of King’s story, but one of the finer adaptations of his works to date.
For many not familiar with the 1990 version, the closest parallel to It will be Stranger Things, last year’s Netflix series that found surprise success with a formula blending the nostalgia of '80s-era King and John Carpenter, early Spielberg, and the timeless appeal of Eggo waffles (casting that series’ lead — Finn Wolfhard — as “Trashmouth” Richie Tozier here doesn’t hurt either). Never mind that, at the time, It actually represented the apex of the “misfit kids vs. the supernatural” genre, Muschietti and composer Benjamin Wallfisch leverage the association to the hilt, with BMX bikes aplenty and a score that wouldn’t have been out of place in E.T.
Of course, much of your reaction depends on your allegiance to Tim Curry’s original portrayal. Skarsgård is certainly scary, but this represents a core problem. Curry’s Pennywise was an effective initial lure because at first glance he looks like a "regular" clown, and whatever your opinion of their innate frightfulness, looking at the 1990 vs 2017 versions of Pennywise side by side, it’s clear Muschietti is only ever hand-waving at the idea of a friendly-looking scamp able to lure kids to their deaths (Georgie is mostly afraid Bill will be mad at him for losing his boat).
In order to feed on children’s fear, you need to be pretty terrifying, no? It features some new monster manifestations specifically designed to be individually bone-chilling, including a weapons-grade leper for hypochondriac germophobe Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer) and a Munsch-esque painting brought to life for sub-par Torah student Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff). And while there are a few jump scares, Muschietti relies more on atmosphere (Derry has to be both the most poorly lit town in New England, as well as the one with the most abandoned structures) and visual clues dotting the surroundings to contribute to the building horror.
And really, what’s more horrifying than adolescence? All of the Losers are victimized not only by the local bullies, but also the indifference, neglect, or abuse of their own families. Bill’s parents are still mostly shell-shocked and distant after the death of Georgie (see also: Gordy LaChance), while Eddie’s mom’s overprotectiveness borders on Munchausen by proxy. Then again, some traumas are worse than others, so you have Mike working on his uncle’s sheep farm, a la Clarice Starling, after the fiery death of his parents, while Beverly is being sexually abused by her father.
We never see anything of Richie or Ben’s families, likely to keep the movie from hitting the three-hour mark. Also, the focus on Bill, Beverly, and Ben (the B-Majors) give additional short shrift to Mike's storyline, which is doubly unfortunate because — as the movie's sole African-American character — it's that much more noticable when he disappears from the screen for almost an hour, and book readers will realize his role as town historian has been transferred to Ben, for some reason.
So while It is a horror movie, it’s also a coming-of-age tale (a fact clumsily telegraphed by the scene in which Beverly buys a box of tampons). The boy Losers are still on the cusp of puberty, but keenly aware of Beverly, who – typical of the female of the species – is maturing more quickly. It’s a scene shot as tastefully as one involving early teens in their underpants can be (largely because of how evocative it is of that *other* great King movie about childhood’s end, Stand By Me). And with It, Muschietti and Dauberman show us a Pennywise who once again represents the exhilharation/terror we all feel as we leave the things of our youth behind and move on into the murky waters of adulthood.
That, and he’s also a scary f*cking clown.