It is an uncommon Stephen King adaptation in a few ways. It transitions elegantly from the page, it’s not lost in translation, and it’s a solidly made film. While the noted scribe can spin a yarn like nobody’s business, his tales rarely maintain their punch when they launch onto the silver screen. For an example of this, you need only look as far as The Dark Tower earlier this summer. But, Warner Bros., begins to make amends with this effort from Andy Muschietti.
The iconic and titular, It, aka Pennywise the Dancing Clown, returns to the cultural consciousness in a glossy, slickly made and well-acted version of his story that keeps the action with the children of Derry, Maine. When the fictional town’s youths start going missing, the town is gripped by terror, but the adults seem unwilling to look deeper. Meanwhile, children are vanishing and those that remain are haunted by a most frightening visage: the clown. Bill Skarsgard brings exceptional menace to his turn as Pennywise, pitching his voice just so, cocking his head, stalking around. It’s eerily fantastic, and honestly, the picture could do with a bit more of him in this form. The effect is much less when It plays at being a boggart and does the living, breathing worst fear play, but it makes for an entertaining bit of cinema anyway.
The real credit here is due to the cast of kids, lead by Jaeden Lieberher of Midnight Special fame and Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard. The success or failure of the picture lies in their performances, and they step up to the hefty lore of King’s tale beautifully. Their relationships feel natural and lived in, and their characters dynamic. Their tainted summer pursuits walk the line between charm and tragedy in a way that speaks to vintage tales of good versus evil. There’s a heady nostalgia in play, but it feels more pure than any we’ve seen in a blockbuster since Super 8. And it’s just about as beautiful. You know, except for … It.
It delivers everything you can want in a horror film: scares, laughs and most uncommonly, wonderful storytelling. Come to get the wiggins from that clown, stay for a glimpse of stars on the rise.