HOLLYWOOD—I’ve never been scared of clowns, but there is something about the clown in the 2017 remake of Stephen’s classic “It” that is absolutely unnerving. Now this is a major disclaimer: I have never seen the original “It.” No, this has nothing with me being scared, I just never watched it. However, this film has a level of eeriness and unease to it that works so brilliantly in the horror genre. This is a thankful testament to director Andy Muschietti who helmed the 2013 thriller “Mama” starring Jessica Chastain.
The premise of “It” remains the same with the tale of seven kids who must unite to battle a demonic entity that has the ability to shapeshift into almost anything, but tends to embody the personification of a creepy clown. Another element that I think is finding its way back into horror is not setting the narrative in the present day. This film takes place in 1888, and its opening scene might be the most unnerving thing I have ever witnessed in the horror genre to date. It horrifying, shocking, scary and just leaves you unsettled as a viewer. It definitely sutures the audience into the narrative right away, as you find yourself intrigued to figure out how the rest of the movie will play out.
I’ve always said this and I will continue to say this: the plight of children is something that tugs at Americans; we do not like to see children harmed or placed in harm’s way. However, “It” is a film that takes that ideology and spins it on its head by placing the children at the mercy of the wickedly evil clown Pennywise, played with such brilliance and impeccable precision by Bill Skarsgard. Skarsgard really indulges in making Pennywise a fearful villain, however, that is more prevalent in the opening scene. As the narrative moves along, the clownsy element starts to take place and that dread that you felt as a spectator in the beginning starts to slightly diminish.
The core of the film revolves around “The Losers Club,” a group of kids who unite after realizing they are all being terrified by the same entity. The hero of the tale is Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), who suffers from a stutter and hasn’t been able to grapple with the disappearance of his little brother George (who becomes a victim of Pennywise’s antics). We have Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), an overweight member of the group who builds a strong bond with Bev (Sophia Lillis), who are both bullied. Lillis does some stellar work as the only female member of the group, who is dealing with a lot of chaos at home. Not only is she being slut shamed at school, but she is dealing with sexual abuse at the hands of her father.
These kids are not only dealing with a dangerous clown out for blood, but actual real-life issues at home and school that I think the audience will absolutely connect with. Bullying of course is at the center of the narrative as Bill and his pals have to deal with Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), and his flunkies who indulge in inflicting terror on others. Other members of ‘The Losers Club’ includes Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), whose fear of getting sick or being sick is utter perfection; Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), as the only African-America kid in the town of Derry, spills all the details on the town’s dangerous past to his pals. There is also Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Bill’s right-hand man and pal, and Stan (Wyatt Oleff), a Jewish germaphobe who enjoys birds a bit much.
“It” feels like a tinge of the current Netflix hit “Stranger Things,” but with the threat heightened to new peaks for the characters involved. The scares are phenomenal; it has been a long time coming since I’ve witnessed a film with such scares that not only sends chills down the spine, but dig deep into one’s psyche about confronting their fears. I almost wanted to equate “It” to Wes Craven’s 1984 classic “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” The only difference was that film centered on dreams as being the catalyst for forcing one to acknowledge their greatest fears, while “It” utilizes a shapeshifter to confront fears.
The kids hand down control the film, but when you have a villain as epic as Pennywise it works because there is a level of balance. The notion of a villain who comes across frightening and is relentless in pursuit of his victims, makes the horror that much more visceral. Director Andy Muschietti crafts the suspense so well, and with precision I cannot wait to witness how much exciting the sequel (which we all know will happen in the coming year or so) based on the film’s success.
There is one caveat; the film is slightly longer than it needs to be clocking in a little over 135 minutes. Cutting around 15-20 minutes would expedite the pacing in my opinion. However, warning this movie is NOT for kids, so keep them away or they will indeed have bad dreams after watching “It,” which is one of the scariest flicks I have seen in YEARS!