Pennywise is back….again.
This time, he makes his big screen debut after the original adaptation premiered as a TV special on ABC nearly 27 years ago. The original split its time between the cast as kids when they first encounter the vile clown, and their return to Derry as adults to confront Pennywise once more. The film decides to dedicate its entire runtime to the story of the protagonists as kids, and it is better off for it.
It is one of the best horror films to come out this year, and one of the more enjoyable films of a summer season which seems to never want to end. It stands in large contrast to other horror flicks such as Annabelle: Creation, which is a painfully dull and by-the-numbers film that relies on weak jump scares in an attempt to draw any reaction out of the audience. It still uses plenty of jump scares, but it has so much more going for it in terms of narrative and character set up that the jump scares have far more meaning to them. In addition to the jump scares, the power of Pennywise as a malevolent force gives the film a sense of dread that allows it to incorporate far more psychological scares than most other contemporary horror films.
No conversation about It can be done without first discussing Pennywise, the dancing clown. The primary reason for the affection for the first adaptation of Stephen King’s novel is due to Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise. In order for this film to be successful, it would be imperative for Bill Skarsgård to be able to pull off a performance that could at least stack up to Curry’s. Thus it is a good sign for the film that the performance by Skarsgård is one of the strongest elements of the film. His initial meeting with Georgie sets the tone for the entire film, and is a shining moment in the film in Skarsgård is allowed to be at his absolute creepiest and evil. This depiction of Pennywise is even more intimidating and frightening that Curry’s role as the clown.
The main aspect of the film that left me wanting more was that I did not get enough Pennywise. Curry’s Pennywise was a lot more talkative, even though he mostly spoke about floating at first. Skarsgård’s Pennywise was not given as much time to really get under the skin of the character, or the audience, by having ample opportunities to speak. As a result, the film misses out on a chance to be more psychologically disturbing, would have made it a more unique and distressing experience.
The only other complaint I can muster about the film is that it felt needlessly dark at times, as though the set was poorly lit. There were times where it was fairly difficult to tell what was going on because the shot was simply too dark. This may have been done to cover up some of the CG, which is understandable, but when there is a monster on screen as exciting as Pennywise, I am going to want to see it clearly and as much as possible.
While it did had some shortcomings, It for the most part shines as a horror film that really gets the blood pumping and delivers on excitement. Each time Pennywise introduces himself to the kids is unique and thrilling, and got me eager to see more of our malicious friend. What truly sets It apart from other modern studio horror films is the amount of talent that was involved with its production. Every aspect of the film felt extremely well done from the plot and dialogue, to the direction, and to the acting. All of those values add up to allow It to shine in ways that Annabelle: Creation, and other films of its ilk, cannot. This film goes to show what strong talent on both sides of the camera can do for a film. Each of the scares have a certain amount of weight to them because we care for the characters, and because of the attention to detail of each and every moment of this film. It should become the template for future mainstream horror films that could go a long way to injecting some new energy and liveliness into a genre that often fails to deliver.