Arts movie review

“Stranger Things” plus clowns gets you “It”

Stephen King’s classic “It” is brought to movie theatres once more

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Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise in "It."
Courtesy of Warner Bros.



Directed by Andrés Muschietti

Screenplay written by Chase Palmer & Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman

Based on the novel by Stephen King

Starring Jaeden Lieberher, Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, Chosen Jacobs, Nicholas Hamilton and Bill Skarsgård

Rated R, now playing

While Stranger Things does not return to Netflix until October, you can still experience the 1980s with It, the latest adaptation of Stephen King’s horror novel. The young boy Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) receives a paper boat from his brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) and, on a rainy day, sets it afloat on the current running down the street. Naturally, the boat goes missing into the sewers, and Georgie tries to retrieve it. Even if you have not read the novel or seen previous adaptations, you probably know what comes next. Georgie meets the monster from the Upside Down of this town: Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), a horrifying clown that haunts the sewage system, taking unsuspecting children into its lair. Boy, it’s just not his day.

After Georgie goes missing, we meet the Losers Club, a group of children who are bullied at school but stay together through friendship. Key players include Georgie’s brother Bill, a stuttering boy who feels guilty about losing Georgie, Richie (Finn Wolfhard) is suitably known as “Trashmouth” for his understandings (and misunderstandings) of the raunchier frontiers of the English language, Beverly (Sophia Lillis), a tomboyish girl who is abused by her father and slutshamed at school, and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) is a Jewish germaphobe.  

Each character can be summarized by a single attribute, but these children don’t seem one-note; they are loveable characters whose grief and fears and naïveté are treated seriously. Perhaps the only thing that is never treated seriously is the horror: certain CG moments were cringey, and most of the jump scares were missed opportunities for more character development or could be removed for a tighter narrative. Fortunately, the moments of horror are not overbearing on the characters and just add to the fun.

It is definitely a crowd pleaser; the film wisely takes advantage of its cast’s wide-eyed acting for great humor. From the get-go, these are children: Richie’s colorful vocabulary are the perfect comic relief; Stan’s germaphobia gets good mileage, as it is a misfortune that their target is in the sewers; and when Beverly joins the group, some of the boys just aren’t sure what to do with their crushes on her. Humor hits well; it’s no surprise the audience I was with often clapped and roared with laughter. But this film also takes its sensitive topics seriously. It applauds its young heroes’ bravery and idealism and does not judge them. Stan (sort of) overcomes his germaphobia and goes into the sewers; Beverly fights back against her abusive father; and Bill finally comes to terms with Georgie’s death.

Muschietti’s vision for King’s novel is remarkable: long enough for us to love these heroes, and well-written enough so that even its more maudlin moments don’t detract from the plot. This is essentially a battle of us (children) versus them (adults); adults are oblivious to Pennywise and (literally) cannot see the blood that’s been spilled, while the children are forced to contend with the horrors that they alone can see. This is a story of the rejects (they are The Losers’ Club for a reason): the young teenagers who never belonged in their school’s hierarchy. The ending sums up why we admire misunderstood heroes; the children go to hunt down Pennywise, even though they should be having fun in their summer, even though they don’t owe anything to anyone, and especially, even though they are afraid for their own lives.

There is a lot of well-deserved praise for this film. It is charming fun, really, both to watch and talk about. But in the meantime, just don’t talk to me about red balloons, or about floating, or dirty sewers, or bloody bathrooms, or clowns. Just...please don’t.