For over 40 years, Stephen King has been the horror genre’s Walt Disney, crafting genuinely tingling tales that seamlessly blend reality with the otherworldly. His literature uses the spooky as a commentary on human nature’s wicked side. The latest adaptation of his book “It” takes full advantage of its R rating, venturing into territory from which the 1990 TV mini-series version was barred. But, in an era where something scary seems to happen every day, “It” becomes a dark fairy tale about bravery in the presence of fear.
The seven main actors in “It” may have been born in the 21st century, but they feel at one with the ’80s zeitgeist in their roles.
On a rainy day in October 1988, little Georgie Denbrough vanishes while out playing with his paper boat. Months later, Georgie’s older brother, Bill, still feels the stabbing pain of grief and guilt while living in denial of his loss. But, in the 24 hours after the last day of school, Bill and his friends, who dub themselves “The Losers Club,” find themselves being individually terrorized in disturbing ways. As the seven youths realize their assaults are linked to a malevolent force responsible for their small town’s history of deaths and disappearances, they must look fear in the face to destroy this monster.
In the tradition of the great ’80s coming-of-age movies, the casting yields young actors who bring the genuine realities of adolescence to their characters. The seven main actors in “It” may have been born in the 21st century, but they feel at one with the ’80s zeitgeist in their roles. The strength of their chemistry ranks up there with the casts of “Stand By Me” and “Super 8.” Jaeden Lieberher uses body language wonderfully to complement Bill’s emotionally tarnished heart. Finn Wolfhard (“Stranger Things”) is hilarious as the potty-mouthed Richie Tozier. Sophia Lillis as Beverly, the Club’s only female member, gives the most moving performance of the group, painting a nuanced and uncompromising portrait of a viciously abused girl grappling with gender politics and her own developing body.
Bill Skarsgård’s interpretation of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, a shape-shifting creature who finds sadistic joy in making misery for the Losers Club, towers over Tim Curry’s more hilariously unhinged take. Part Jim Carrey’s Grinch and part Heath Ledger’s Joker, this new Pennywise is a nightmarish performance artist who goes for the jugular in his scream-inducing party tricks. When the children discover Pennywise’s secrets via a projector presentation in a garage, be very afraid for what comes afterward. Skarsgård uses his physical assets to take charge of the role, particularly his 6-foot-4 stature and a jaw-dropping ability to individually point his irises – his own natural blue or post-production’s CGI yellow – in different directions. Janie Bryant’s costume design for the clown, heavily Renaissance-influenced, and the film’s makeup department also aid in wiping away any traces of the actor.
While most screenwriters create static dialogue, particularly for children, this film’s screenplay acknowledges its young characters’ complicated maturity as they realize that they can’t rely on adults to save them anymore. Though the film has a two hour and 15 minute runtime, it moves along at an effective pace that takes its time with each plot point and knows when to move on.
“Here,” Pennywise tempts Georgie shortly before abducting the boy, “take it.” This moment, prominently featured in the film’s spectacular marketing campaign, seduced many a moviegoer into seeing “It,” resulting in the biggest box office opening weekend for both the horror genre and the month of September, at $123 million. While audiences won’t lose their arm to this movie the way poor Georgie does to Pennywise, “It” will nonetheless be an exercise in the strength of one’s nerves, confronting them with what scares them the most.
"It" is playing now in theaters.