It doesn't clown around. Freed from 20th century network television standards, Stephen King's novel on screen can be as much bloody, vulgar fun as It is supposed to be.
Director Andy Muschietti brings a similar sense of supernatural dread to King's tale as his morose 2013 debut Mama. The author's knack for juvenile conversation among misfit teenagers lends lowbrow humor Muschietti ably handles. He's okay at plotting nightmares, usually starring Pennywise, the quintessential killer clown.
Mostly what makes It appealing is a cast of young, relatively unknown actors who unlike most horror flick stars leave a feeling we'll see them again. Not only Bill Skarsgard, nearly matching Tim Curry's TV version, in a sequel hinted by the end title: It, Part 1. The followup should be confirmed by the time this weekend's box office is tallied.
Skarsgard's Pennywise would return but none of his young co-stars would, since King's story takes their characters into adulthood. Let me suggest Amy Adams as the older Beverly played by Sophia Lillis, a talented doppleganger down to the last freckle. Beverly is the lone girl in the Losers Club, as seven awkward, bullied teens view themselves. Carrie, meet the Stand by Me gang. Watch Beverly's bathroom hallucination compliments of Pennywise to agree.
Each teenager gets a burden to bear. Beverly's is sexual, unfairly accused by other girls of promiscuity while her father leers. Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is bullied about his weight. Richie (Stranger Things' Finn Wolfhard) hides behind crude wisecracks and Coke bottle glasses.
Mike (Chosen Jacobs) is forced by his father to work in a slaughterhouse since black folks besides Mike don't show up anywhere else in town. A smothering mother turned Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) into a hypochondriac. Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) is a rabbi's son flubbing his bar mitzvah lessons. The club's de facto leader is Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher, Midnight Special), a stutterer whose little brother Georgie is Pennywise's introductory victim, yanked into the sewers graphically minus an arm.
The scene works due to Skarsgard's sing-song menace, his greasepaint smile peeled back to reveal rows of sharp teeth. King's book and to an extent the TV movie established ideas still used by horror filmmakers today. We're seeing a cinematic medley of classic scare covers, doled out as the Loser Club members' fears. It's effective, especially Pennywise's poses and shape shifting spasms, but run of the thrill stuff.
What happens between the jumps makes It unusual. Time is allowed for the Losers Club to establish outsider statuses, making their bond something to hope will survive. The crush triangle between Beverly, Bill and Ben is sweetly defined. Bill's obsession with learning what happened to his brother and others missing from Derry gives Lieberher much to do well. Either people matter in horror or nothing's scary.
King's book isn't hallowed literature, just a little vicious fun, if 1,100 pages can be considered little. This is the spooky, overlong movie It deserves and It deserves that sequel. Float on.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.