Not Clowning Around

Stephen King’s creepy clown is back for another round of nightmares


Starring Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard & Sophia Lillis
Directed by Andy Muschietti
Rated R

The creepy clown is back.

Clowns have been giving some people the willies for a long, long time. But Stephen King put a fine line on the phobia in 1986 with his masterful horror opus novel about a group of kids terrorized by a supernatural, shape-shifting predator particularly fond of taking the form of Pennywise, a dancing circus clown.

King’s novel, set in the 1950s, was made into a popular ABC miniseries in 1990.

The new movie, which resets the story in the late 1980s, hews true to the dark, twisted soul of King’s source material with a bright cast of youngsters who portray a group of outlier friends who call themselves “the Losers” as a show of solidarity.

It_09162016_Day 57_16310.dngStuttering Bill (Jaeden Lieberher from St. Vincent, The Book of Henry and Midnight Special) reels from guilt over the gruesome death of his younger brother a year earlier. Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) is having trouble mastering his Torah—and haunted by a painting in his rabbi father’s study. Frail germaphobe Eddie (Jack Dylan Glazier, making his movie debut) carries his inhaler and other meds in a fanny pack.

Mike (Chosen Jacobs, who played Will Grover on TV’s Hawaii Five-O) was orphaned when his parents died trying to save him in a tragic house fire. Finn Wolfhard (Mike Wheeler on Stranger Things) is wisecracking Richie, who provides many of the movie’s raunchy gag lines and much of its comic relief. Ben (Ray Taylor) is the new kid in school, who’s obsessed with the history of the community—and the singing group New Kids on the Block.

Sophia Lillis gives a particularly nuanced performance as Beverly, the only girl in the group, who harbors a deep, troubling secret at home.

All the Losers are bullied by a gaggle of older kids led by the psychotic Henry (Nicholas Hamilton). The grownups in their lives are either not around, hostile, indifferent or worse—much worse.

It_03192017_Day 61_18998.dngAs Pennywise, Bill Skarsgård (son of actor Stellan Skarsgård) is a cackling, drooling nightmare, aided by CGI when his mouth becomes an abyss of hundreds of tiny pointed teeth, or he morphs and mangles into something even more monstrous.

Pennywise knows what each of the Losers are afraid of, and he becomes horrific manifestations of those fears.

The Losers call the evil entity “It” and eventually figure out it’s been reappearing in the town every 27 years to feed on a new crop of kids. (The movie comes 27 years after the TV miniseries, a nice creative touch.)

“It knows what scares us most,” says Stanley, “and that’s what we see.”

The Losers band together to find It when Beverly is taken away into its subterranean sewer lair. That sets the stage for an epic clown showdown.

It_0812016_Day 33_8165.dngIt has a vintage retro, throwback feel that recalls several other touchstone movies of its 1980s era, notably Stand By Me (adapted from another Stephen King story) and The Goonies. And of course, there’s also Netflix’s Stranger Things, also set in the ’80s, also starring young Finn Wolfhard, and also about a group of kids battling the supernatural—and searching for a boy who’s disappeared.

A bloody bathroom scene looks like a salute to Carrie by way of The Shining (two other King movie adaptations), and it’s hard to see any movie with kids racing along on bicycles and not think of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Director Andy Muschietti (Mama) creates some truly bold, creative sequences. The opening—when Bill’s younger brother meets Pennywise in a storm-water grate—is a stylish, gory shocker, and when Pennywise emerges from the flicking images of a garage slideshow, watch out!

Although the movie is built around kids, it’s definitely not a kids movie. It earns its R rating in many ways. Body parts are severed, blood spews and splatters and f-bombs fly. Kids talk about…well, things that kids would have talked about in the late 1980s.

And unlike the book and the miniseries, this It clearly sets itself up for a sequel, when the kids vow to come back, in 27 years, if It does.

“I’m not afraid of you,” Beverly tells Pennywise.

“You will be,” Pennywise tells her.

If you’re not already creeped out by clowns, It will definitely scare you over the line.

In theaters Sept. 8, 2017

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