The new screen adaptation of Stephen King’s chilling novel may appear to be a jump-scare fest riding high on the wave of the “killer clown” craze, but beneath the surface “It” taps into something much deeper and smarter.
“Hiya Georgie!” In 1990, Tim Curry leered this phrase from inside a drain in “It’s” first screen outing, bringing a fear of clowns to a generation. Jumping forward to today, Bill Skarsgard is here to fill the huge clown shoes Curry left behind, and create a new age of coulrophobia. The fact that it’s taken 27 years for this new take, famously the length of Pennywise the clown’s hibernation between his murderous sprees is surely coincidence, right?
Those familiar with either the 1990 adaptation or King’s original text will know the story by now. The new adaptation is a relatively faithful retelling, albeit updated to an 80’s setting to further mine the decade we are currently getting all our pop culture references from. Though I’m far from the first to notice, the new film borrows heavily from aesthetics we’re currently seeing enjoy huge popularity on Netflix’s “Stranger Things.” Besides the fun references, the decade hardly matters. At “It’s” heart is a classic coming of age story, of a group of friends growing up in a quiet town in America.
This is where the film really starts to take shape. The group of children, not-so-affectionately referred to as the “Loser’s Club” perfectly capture this image of youth, with both its innocent adventure, and fear of what’s to come. Pennywise the Clown, or “It” as it should really be called is such an intriguing creation, because it isn’t just a murderous clown, it’s a shapeshifter that takes the guise of each of the children’s deepest and darkest fears. Think boggarts from Harry Potter, but with the intention on eating its youthful victims.
What would otherwise be your standard coming-of-age affair is broken up as “It” visits the members of the “Loser’s Club” one by one, uncovering the one thing that keeps each of them awake at night. This structure at the film’s opening can become slightly formulaic and repetitive, but each child’s performance makes it clear exploring them individually is worth the audience’s time. The casting really has to be praised, as each child actor displays talent indicating long fruitful careers.
Skarsgard’s take on Pennywise is much different than Tim Curry’s. He’s less brash and in your face, at least until he wants to be. He spends a lot of time lurking in the shadows to the edge of the camera, constantly creating an eery sense of supense.
I guess the central question I need to answer, is “is the film scary?” The answer is a solid yes. There are your standard moments of things popping out to make you spill your popcorn, but there is also a deeper underlying fear, and that’s something that will stay with you well after you leave the cinema.