Ah everyone remembers there first encounter with a killer clown, and the kids at Derry, Maine are no exception. The town has always had something of a chequered past but when children start to go missing more and more frequently then it’s up to Losers’ club to sort things out. Teenage adventure and murderous clowns ensue.
I don’t think I have actually ever read a Stephen King book, and I certainly haven’t tackled his 1986 1000+ page doorstep of a book It. I’ve not actually seen the original TV adaptation of It either with Tim Curry as terrifying clown even though it seems to have been a right of passage for people of my age. In truth I don’t actually enjoy horror films, I’m far too suggestible and I’m still haunted by Ghostwatch 25 years after I first saw it. Why am I going to go and watch a film about a supernatural killer clown then? Well clowns are one of the few horror tropes that don’t actually scare me and more importantly I’d heard such good things about It that I had to give It a try.
I think the first thing to note about It is that it’s not really that scary. I was expecting something with a lot of jump scares and a lot of gory moment but with the exception of the first five minutes there really isn’t a lot of blood and gore. It is a film that has more in common with Stranger Things or the Goonies than with a ‘traditional’ horror film. The core of the film focuses on the self-named Losers’ club, a gang of kids that spend their summer riding around the town on bikes and that were brought together through their victimisation by the town bullies. The film has a really strong coming of age vibe to it, which is something that I really enjoy and perhaps most importantly the children in the central roles and really, really good. Most of Losers’ club fit to a coming of age movie archetype but never in a way that feels cliched. There’s the leader of the gang Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), the mouthy kid Richie (Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfard), the fat kid Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the mummy’s boy Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and the girl of the group (and MVP of the movie) Beverly (Sophia Lillis). While the kids are great individually the real strength is that they have a great and natural chemistry as a group.
Of course, it’s not just the kids who are great, their nemesis Pennywise the dancing (and deadly) clown is also played very well by Bill Skarsgård. I’ve not really got a frame of reference having never seen Tim Curry do his thing in the original adaptation but this was a really memorable performance. It is a film that definitely subscribes to the less is more theory and uses Pennywise quite sparingly. I think that makes him all the more affective when you do actually see him. Pennywise doesn’t seem overtly terrifying (unless you happen to dislike clowns) but he’s never quite right. There’s a weird childlike quality to Skarsgård’s performance that makes it all the more unsettling.
Against all of my expectations I enjoyed It much more than I thought I would and that is in no small part thanks to the fact that it is a coming of age film first and foremost and it just happens to contain horror elements. I think had it been adapted as an out and out horror film I might have found it less entertaining. There’s been a lot of talk of a sequel that focuses on the return of Pennywise when the kids are all grown up, or so I’m told by people who have read the book or seen the original. I’m definitely on board for that.