No clowning around: ‘It’ will haunt your dreams
Abuse in all its forms predicates the 2017 revamp of Stephen King's celebrated It.
Channeling into the 1980s vibe set down by Netflix series Stranger Things and also The Goonies, the re-telling of mid-town America's outsider kids (the self-styled Loser Club) and their fight against evil is a genuinely chilling creep-fest that perhaps overplays some of its hand toward the end.
For those unfamiliar with the book and the mini series, which starred Tim Curry, the remake centres on the tragedy of Bill (Midnight Special's Jaeden Lieberher) whose younger brother disappears one night in a storm. As the family struggles to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives, Bill and his other friends get ready for the end of school and subsequent summer vacation.
But the ensuing freedom is anything but for the friends, who find summer days riddled with bullies and the on-set of adolescence.
Things are further exacerbated when they all begin to experience horrific visions and all share the fact that a clown is front and centre of their collective mania...
It works well as a rollercoaster ride of jump scares and psychotic thrills, guaranteed to make you jump out of your seat whether you're coulrophobic or not.
But as the film goes on, the reliance on jump scares and the inevitable Stephen King silliness sets in, fatiguing the final strait of this over-long, but largely terrific and atmospheric piece.
A chilling pre-credits sequence sets the stall out well - a sense of uneasiness pervades with menace as Bill's younger brother meets Pennywise the clown as he tries to retrieve something from a drain. It's here that Skarsgard earns his stripes as the sinister clown, bouncing from mirth to downright nastiness on the turn of a coin. Director Muschietti (Mama) wisely uses the clown sparingly throughout, giving the film the edge it needs to be unsettling - and Skarsgard makes the best of every single scene the demented and cracked-painted monster appears in.
Perhaps equally successful are the smaller details that ooze through It.
There's an effective damning of adults in mid-town America, where kids are raised in the shadow of implied incest, abuse, poverty, and continual neglect and bullying. There's the skating of the line between innocence of childhood and the oncoming terror of adolescence. There's the innate tragedy of trauma affecting both families of loss and the children of abuse; in short, there's a lot from the King novel which is laced within to terrific use.
It may feel very familiar because of how the cinematic world's been shaped by such tropes ever since, but given how deliberate the pacing of Muschietti's film is and how much time is spent with the kids' group and within their own dynamics, even the stereotyped and familiar feels largely fresh and thrillingly frightening. In the quieter moments and the internal relationships fare the best, with Lieberher and Amy Adams-lookalike Lillis adding heart to the proceedings and universal recognition to teen awkwardness.
Ultimately though, It is a nightmarish yet somehow episodic meshing of phobias and primal premises wrapped up into one effective package, guaranteed to haunt you.
Cast: Bill Skarsgard, Jaden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis
Director: Andy Muschietti
Running time: 135 minutes