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IT review - killer clown is kids' stuff | reviews, news & interviews

IT review - killer clown is kids' stuff

IT review - killer clown is kids' stuff

Stephen King classic revisited, more faithful than frightening

Circus of evil: Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard)

Stephen King’s IT attempted ultimate terror, cutting far deeper than a killer clown.

It idealised childhood friendships and their adult honouring even as one of those kids was forced to eat shit by sadistic bullies, and their idyllic small-town of Derry had a stream of child-killing evil running through its sewers. Andy Muschietti’s elegantly crafted adaptation – the first part of two – does King’s achievement superficial justice, while rarely causing nightmares of its own.

Its opening scene is one exception, as 12-year-old Bill (Jaden Lieberher, pictured below third right) sends his adoring 7-year-old brother George (Jackson Robert Scott) out to play in the rain with a waxed paper boat. The boat’s capture by Pennywise the clown, who peers from just inside a drain as he lures George to him with a gravel-damaged, playful coo, sees fright, hope and trust chase fitfully across the child’s face, before he loses his arm then his life.The Losers ClubPennywise is the heart of Derry’s darkness, and Bill Skarsgård stands comparison with Tim Curry’s iconic 1990 TV portrayal. With front teeth between Nosferatu and Bugs Bunny, coquettishly sly eyes, the dress sense of a pierrot and jerky movements of a marionette, and a taste for malicious manipulation which is literal (he feeds off children’s fear), he’s a memorable monster.

Muschietti understands that school-days’ cruelty is IT’s worst horror, and goes nearly as far as King to confront it. Amongst the seven children Bill leads as the Losers’ Club against Pennywise, overweight, literature-obsessed Ben is almost killed by a bully’s savagely spiralling assault, Sophia, already suffering her father’s sexual abuse at home, has a toilet’s contents dumped on her, and black Derry outsider Mike suffers that glimpsed shit-eating scene. Nor is the repeated worry that adults are “gonna kill me” always an empty phrase.

True Detective director Cary Fukunaga quit IT when his desire for oblique horror and characters who were more than archetypes was refused. Muschietta gives his excellent young actors some moments of human nuance, but these Losers otherwise conform to Fukunaga’s critique. Alongside their stuttering chief Bill, Jewish Stanley, hypochondriac Eddie and bespectacled wiseacre Richie complete the broad-brush picture.Pennywise (Stellan Skarsgard) in ITIT pulls the ties between Eighties phenomena King and Spielberg tight, especially when the strings of Benjamin Wallfisch’s score swell, John Williams-like, as the Losers cycle determinedly through Derry’s golden sunlight. It could be Elliott and his gang in E.T., or River Phoenix and co. in Stand By Me, the most Spielbergian King adaptation till now. Muschietti has mentioned parallels to the Spielberg-produced The Goonies, and made a self-conscious attempt at a film from the time of IT’s 1986 publication. This nostalgic simulacrum is a touch too arch, even before Sophia gets compared to Molly Ringwald.

Muschietti has updated many of the Losers’ individual fears, and the timeframe of IT’s two halves from 1957 and 1984 to 1989 and 2016. But he has kept the cinematic faults of King’s vast, episodic novel, petering out into repetitive running through the sewers, where Pennywise’s failure to kill these children makes him a toothless, cartoon monster, too Goonies by half. This is a handsome, diligently respectful adaptation. The adult sequel may dive deeper.

Pennywise’s failure to kill these children makes him a toothless, cartoon monster, too Goonies by half


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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