Some ideas strike a collective chord with all of us. Take clowns, for example. Sometime within the last 30 years, there was a collective realization that clowns are kinda scary. What was the genesis of that idea? Was it the doll in “Poltergeist?” Was it the capture of John Wayne Gacy? Or was it when Stephen King (still my favorite writer) published “It?”
In “It,” King somehow was able to distill the scary clown concept down to its essence in a way that managed to tap into this fear in a novel way. What makes King’s creation, Pennywise the Dancing Clown, so frightening is that It is also able to take the form of the thing you fear most in this world… and he feeds on us when we’re most vulnerable: when we’re children.
“It” remains one of King’s seminal and most well-regarded works, so it’s particularly important that any adaptation gets it right. This movie does. This version of Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgård (proving, once again, the Skarsgård rule*), is particularly terrifying. The kids, led by Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), and Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) are all well-cast. Director Andy Muschietti (“Mama”) is fluent in the cinematic language of horror and understands the importance of framing a shot. The sets are well-conceived (in particular, the house on Niebolt Street where the kids have their first showdown with It).
My only nits to pick with the movie are that first, it relies a little too much on nostalgia, sometimes to the point of distraction. References to 1980s pop culture do the story a disservice, begging Generation Xers to force a laugh every time we recognize the name of a song by the New Kids on the Block (at times, the movie was so heavy-handed in its references that I was reminded of this pitch-perfect scene from “Bojack Horseman”). For all of the tweaks made to the story, the climax of the story – easily the weakest part of King’s book – was a bit of a letdown.
Overall, however, “It” is effective at bringing the thrills and chills.
* The Skarsgård rule: if a Skarsgård is in the movie, he’s the bad guy. Exceptions to this rule are “Good Will Hunting” and “Thor.”