Although it has been a huge year for Stephen King’s book adaptations, not everyone is happy about the American novelist’s resurgence.
The professional clown industry has understandably been hit pretty hard by the generalizations made in the movie It on what they actually do for a day job. It is becoming more difficult for a clown to make an honest living with Pennywise, the clown in It, mutilating their clientele. The performers’ public image has not been this low in decades, at least since Tim Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise in Tommy Lee Wallace’s miniseries.
But for film director Andy Muschietti, this rekindled fear of clowns is exactly what he was looking for. Without a believably terrifying Pennywise, It would have flopped like a bad circus act; it was arguably the saving grace of the show.
Curry became the definitive Pennywise—he owned the role because he captured exactly what it takes to make a clown scary. But It is not a contest.
It’s film adaptation is a tribute that digs into the very meat of what made King’s novel so good.
Muschietti does not hack away at scenes with commercial breaks; instead, he uses a scalpel and cuts in neat lines. Every single second of the film is accounted for and every scene moves us closer to the ending credits without undoing the inertia or lagging.
It is fair to assume a large majority of the film’s audience will have already experienced the Losers Club’s time in Derry, Maine. Although what we often see on screen alludes to whole sections of crucial exposition, it is important to know right off the bat that the movie’s run time is only two hours long.
This means that each scene’s goal is to reveal or foreshadow as much as possible without openly acknowledging it, and this is why the plot had to go under the knife.
There are slightly significant changes to the story but they were made out of necessity. These changes, however, reinforce the narrative It tells, and gives it the backbone the movie needs to stand up for itself.
Mike Hanlon plays a much bigger role this time around and there is no slingshot or silver dollars, making the story feel incredibly fresh, and giving the Losers Club more time to banter among themselves.
Enough praise cannot be given to the child actors in It. The leads were all phenomenal. The group of friends had a chemistry similar to the one among Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.
But Eddie Kaspbrak, played by Jack Grazer, stole the show as Bill Denbrough’s sidekick, practicing method acting in his role as the neurotic son of a hypochondriacal mother.
Sophia Lillis also played a wonderful Beverly Marsh, although her character’s backstory was purely alluded to. On screen, Marsh is meant to capture the experience of falling for a first childhood crush.
With many thanks to the film’s special effects, she does it perfectly. It is worth mentioning that for many characters, their personality is derived from visual cues that often foreshadow their future habits.
It was the little details like Beverley smoking cigarettes or the clothes in her room that fleshed her out. Again, the cinematography of this film shows as much as the medium can tell. Additionally, every scene with the “club” brims with hilariously vulgar jokes, brutal comebacks and references to New Kids on the Block.
The kids gave It its comedy chops. Depending on whether Pennywise is on screen, the audience will laugh as often as it will scream. But Denbrough, Marsh and Ben Hanscom’s ménage à trois does not provide much aside from comic relief.
There were a number of critical moments cut from King’s novel that were of the bonding variety.
However, because of how perfectly matched the Losers Club is this time around, it is possible that Muschietti assumed he had captured enough on-screen chemistry to account for the changes.
The same goes for Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgard. The actor did not strive for imitation in his portrayal at all. He moves with the jerky motions of Javier Botet in Mama, and is deeply unsettling when fully made up.
This is most definitely a clown from hell—not Curry in a clown costume.
One scene in particular that stands out is toward the end of the film when a member of the Losers Club is trying to escape from the dancing clown. In the scene, the clown’s head is stabilized while he closes in on his prey. This sort of visual cue represents It’s essence perfectly.
It grabs the viewer’s attention, scares the hell out of them, and then goes in for the kill. It is a shame the plot gave no explanation about It’s origins in the Macroverse.
Only a dedicated show could put every sentence of the book on film. It treats its fan base to a streamlined tour of Derry through visual Easter eggs that hinges on an informed audience to cut corners off enormous chunks of history.
As the first chapter in a potential saga, there may still be time to give the town itself some character—someone is going to have to stay behind and play historian.