I can’t support the notion that the supernatural entity known as It takes on the form of a clown because clowns are enticing to children. No child has unironically enjoyed the presence of a clown since the vaudevillian days of the 1930s. People have been afraid of clowns for years, even before Tim Curry decided to put on a red nose. If you were one of those people who saw Stephen King’s It (1990) as a kid and cite it as the source of your childhood nightmares, I highly recommend watching it again, now, as an adult. Upon second viewing, you might come to realize that not only is it not very frightening, but it’s also rather dated and not particularly good. In this era of remake after remake after remake, this is a rare example of an early 90s relic that was due for an upgrade. And that’s because the story and the concept is actually compelling- the 1990 version just didn’t do much apart from traumatize some now-twenty somethings and give Tim Curry ample scenery to chew on. And this project has been in the works since 2009- Cary Fukunaga, the original director, dropped out due to “creative differences”, the script was rewritten, most of the actors were re-cast a week before filming…after all of that chaos it’s hard to believe they were able to pull the project together without making it too much of a messy combination of Fukunaga’s vision and Muschietti’s. But they did it, and they did it well. And maybe the delay in production was a blessing in disguise because it has been exactly 27 years since the release of the original miniseries- accurately matching the timeline of It’s resurgence from the depths of the sewers to consume the flesh of the innocent. So that’s nice.
Bill Skarsgard was an unusual casting choice for the title character- some were puzzled by the decision to cast a baby-faced twenty something in the same role Tim Curry played in his mid-forties. But boy did it pay off. Skarsgard, beneath all that makeup, is an adorable, lanky, wide-eyed young actor. And that comes through in his performance, adding a disturbing layer to It as a character- it’s just having fun. It has the simple mind of a child without the humanity of a human being. I truly adored this performance and this casting decision, although I’m a little unsettled by the fact that I am now closer in age to the child-eating clown than I am to the children who fight him.
The child actors who portray the Loser’s Club were the perfect ensemble. The failure of a lot of horror films lies in the protagonists, who should be compelling enough to make the audience want them to live through the end, and this group of actors absolutely knocked it out of the park. We as a culture seem to have a soft spot for this genre called “group of lovable ragamuffins fight evil” and this is one of the best examples of that. Every kid in the group proves they’re able to hold their own as both dramatic and comedic actors, and they talk like real kids do- not the way adults wish they would, like so many other poorly written child characters. This is the reason why the corny nature of the story is so forgivable. And yes, it is corny…their primary weapon of choice is literally the power of friendship. But these characters are likable and well-developed throughout the story that I fully support the idea that the magic of seven friends who love and protect each other can fight a supernatural sewer monster.
Something else to appreciate about this movie is how unflinching it is with what they’re willing to show. The death of a child is usually done offscreen either for the sake of the young actor or the audience. But Muschietti was not interested in handling anyone with kid gloves. Bad things happen to children in this movie. Graphic things. These kids really get put through the ringer and it is established early on, in that infamous sewer drain scene, that nobody will be spared a gruesome death because of their age. No one is safe. And spoiler alert, Georgie’s (Jackson Robert Scott) death is hard to watch. It is more frightening and gory than the 1990 version, which allows Georgie’s death to be heavily implied rather than explicitly shown. This one goes all out. Without giving too much away, a six year old is violently mutilated on screen in the first half hour.
It, above all else, is fun. It’s a smart, scary, sometimes humorous and heartfelt popcorn flick with an excellent cast and memorable thrills. And because of the amount of money this one made and the praise it’s already receiving, a ‘part two’ is already in the works, presumably featuring the Losers club as adults. If we’re lucky, that movie will live up to the high bar that’s been set- even if it takes another 27 years to get it right.