Photo from Wikipedia.org
By Nick Spennato
Nine times out of ten, when you are watching a horror movie, it is not a great sign if the audience is laughing. Typically, if the audience is laughing at a movie that is supposed to frighten them, the movie has failed and needs to take horror remedial next fall. There were a few moments when I could not help but laugh while “It” was doing its damnedest to frighten me (perhaps the price you pay for having a clown as your villain?). In spite of that, the latest adaptation of Stephen King’s “It” is thoroughly enjoyable, from its twisted visuals and likable performances to the clown at the center of it all.
“It” takes place in 1989 in a town called Derry, a haven of misfortune where violent accidents and missing children incidents occur every couple of years. Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), is the distraught brother of one of the missing children. He and his group of friends, who are all outcasts, attempt to get to the bottom of the town’s dark secrets, which forms the crux of the movie. The titular character, It (not to be confused with the It from “It Follows” or the It from “It Comes at Night”), a malevolent entity who most often takes the form of the jaunty demonic clown, Pennywise, opposes them.
All the performances are, at the very least, entertaining. While some of the adults seem to have their acting turned up to the max, and other characters defined by a single trait, the kids who make up the core cast are talented, believable and thankfully, not irritating. Their conversations and scenes of them enjoying the summer outside of the horror shenanigans offer a welcome contrast. A special mention should be given to Bill Skarsgård, who plays Pennywise in this iteration and had the unenviable task of following the performance done by Tim Curry in the 1990s miniseries.
The film is also a treat to look at. The many forms It takes are all wonderfully rendered and suitably disturbing as reflections on the fears of those he hunts. The film is well paced and, fortunately, uses that pacing to bounce between a number of well-realized locations. There is a certain skill involved in taking a typical bathroom, a sewer system, some woods and a house that looks stereotypically scary and to build one to scale while making sure each one of those locations is creepy in their own way.
Also of note is how bright and how colorful this movie can be. A nice block of the two-hour runtime is during the day in a serene chunk of small-town America, and even the most frightening moments do not rely on total darkness to build tension.
“So which part of this film is funny?” you might be asking. For starters, there is some dialogue and a couple of gags that take place in the film’s lighter “kids during summer” moments. These are fine. On the other hand, there are funny moments that take place by accident during more frightening scenes. These are less fine.
For example, the film is adept at creating tension from very little. A scene that starts normally might soon enter a dreamlike state, and it is now obvious that something is coming, though you are not entirely sure what. Then, that something will happen. The film frequently utilizes this tension during a quick cut to Pennywise, who will then rush towards the screen in all his clown glory.
As unnerving as the Pennywise design is, it is still a clown, and sometimes his movements are sped up, janky and comical. There is one scene in which Pennywise, after some surreal nightmare imagery and a boat load of build up, chases a character in a basement and speeds towards him before a hard cut makes it look as though he tripped going up the stairs.
However, do not misunderstand– this film is not a walk in the park. There are some heavy elements at play here and just because things might be comical on occasion, that does not mean this is for the faint of heart.
Whatever. So what if some of the jump scares are not up to snuff? The film still oozes charm between its core cast of kids trying to enjoy their summer, and it is still unsettling from its disturbing imagery. There are plenty of horror movies out there for the filmgoer who wants to jump in their seat from a loud noise once and a while in between browsing Reddit. Stephen King’s “It,” on the other hand, is a film that is worth watching in its own right, even if it has the audacity to sometimes make you smile.