Pennywise, the illustrious shape-shifting clown, is about as iconic of a horror character as one can get. Sure, the classics like Frankenstein and Dracula and the modern slashers like Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees will be ever-present in the eyes of pop culture, but everyone remembers the first time they saw Tim Curry’s unforgettable performance in the 1990 mini-series “It” based on the novel of the same name.
With that said, that mini-series is bad. Sometimes so bad it’s good, but mostly just bad.
Remove the memories of cowering under your blankets as a child, mustering all the strength you have to keep those drops of urine safely out of your pants, and the series is mostly silly nonsense, Curry’s Pennywise included.
Andrés Muschietti’s 2017 adaptation of the novel, however, has a clear goal of correcting those mistakes.
“It” is many things. “It” is disturbing, “It” is funny, “It” is nostalgic and, most importantly, “It” knows when to embrace its silliness, as well as put its focus on the right elements in the right moments. There’s a fine line between the absurd and the terrifying that must be walked whenever dealing with a “killer clown” narrative.
The film differs from the mini-series, as the entire film is set in the late-80s, when our seven main characters are all in junior high school. Rather than flashing back between the characters as adults and children throughout the runtime like the mini-series, the whole film illustrates our ragtag, group of 80s clichés’ first encounter with the twisted, malevolent clown.
This works for many reasons. First and foremost, all of the child actors (the most notable being Finn Wolfhard of “Stranger Things” fame) selected for each role deliver incredibly convincing performances.
Good child actors are hard to come by, but “It” has some very good casting, which only propels the film further, as real, believable kids are essential for a film so reliant on tapping into your nostalgic memories of summer vacation.
For the most part, that’s what “It” is about. Children on the verge of puberty beginning to accept that they are growing up and the many fears that come along with it. Essentially, that is what Pennywise (this time sadistically portrayed by Bill Skarsgård) represents. The audience is constantly reminded by this as the kids repeat over and over throughout the film to one another that it’s summer and they should be having fun, not chasing demonic clowns down a well.
Pennywise feeds off of the fear of humans, and at no point in their lives are people more easily terrified than at that ripe age where you’re still technically a child but not necessarily mature enough to be considered a young adult.
Everything from a girl’s first period to the rituals of a Bar Mitzvah are used as tools in Pennywise’s limitless kit of nightmare fuel that each character must overcome.
The film delivers what it promises for those reasons, but some of the choices made throughout the two-hour and eleven-minute runtime are a little confusing.
The film has some tonal inconsistencies, as there are numerous moments where you won’t be sure whether or not to laugh or cower. For the most part, “It” has some very enjoyable humor that’s not just from the kids (though that’s where most of the laughs are derived from) but also from Pennywise himself.
However, when half the audience is gasping and the other half is laughing, it is a little difficult to figure out what to make of these moments. Both when the silliness and the dread of the plot are subtly reeled in, it hits its mark, but other times, audiences will be left scratching their heads for a moment before moving on to the next scene.
Besides that, nothing really falls flat in “It” aside from a (understandable) slow crawl to the actual plot, some annoying shaky-cam action sequences and a sub-plotline revolving around one of the bullies in town that ultimately leads to nothing.
Some of the scares are more goofy than scary, but that’s where that fine line I mentioned before comes in. For example, the mini-series was hellbent on convincing its audience that balloons are scary (spoiler: they’re not), but in Muschietti’s version, the balloons are mostly used as a reminder that Pennywise is always lurking, always watching, and through this decision, the balloons start to elicit a more unsettling response than they normally would.
I’m incredibly pleased to say that this ominously bonkers tale has finally come to life in a way that won’t redefine how a person can physically cringe. The film pays homage to the original while updating the visuals and structure to more properly fit modern audiences’ expectations, making the viewing experience a fresh and enjoyable one.
From the looks of it, the film will likely be a success, and a sequel will be greenlit following the kids as adults which will only float Pennywise higher and higher into the limelight and into our darkest dreams where anything could happen.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll float too.