One can only imagine what was going through the mind of the first person who dressed as a clown. How is a grown man in makeup, wearing a red rubber nose and oversized shoes, supposed to project an aura of laughter when all he does is make parents want to call child services? There are other professions to choose from besides being a clown; all of which are more respectable and far less nightmare-inducing.
It comes as no surprise that Stephen King used this real-life terror as fuel for his 1986 novel.
It (note the italicization) was first adapted into a TV miniseries in 1990 and stars Tim Curry as Pennywise the Fucked-Up Clown (that adjective wasn't really part of his name, but it should have been) across two time periods: the first following a band of kids called The Losers Club, and the second taking place 30 years after, where the same kids have grown up. Unlike its predecessor, this first part of a planned duology is a full-blown horror movie covering the youth of The Losers Club and their struggles with a pasty-faced carny.The problem with a lot of horror movies is that once viewers stop soiling their pants and process what they have just seen, the narrative as a whole is not very compelling. It usually involves some unlucky strangers coming into contact with a cursed place or item; with the people realizing too late that they shouldn't mess with anything older than their grandparents. There is no characterization, no cohesive plot - just a couple of stereotypes trying to escape a supernatural predicament.
This is not the case with It. Even though you came to watch it to scream like Michael Jackson did after he saw his new face for the first time, the movie takes the time to flesh out its story and introduce its handful of characters. Bill is a stuttering young teenager who can't get over the loss of his little brother. When a string of children go missing during summer vacation, he and his friends band together to solve the mystery and find out just what is up about the clown that is stalking them.
Think of an R-rated Stranger Things flick and you aren't far-off from It's plot (it even stars one of the kids from the Netflix show). It somehow merges the feelings of a horror film with those of a kids' summer vacation movie (no, not those animated ones). The Losers Club gets into fights. They run away from bullies who look way too old to still be in school. They ignore their parents' orders and go swimming.The best part about these scenes is that the kids playing the characters make it work. Barring some by-the-numbers acting from Chosen Jacobs and Wyatt Oleff (who play the dark-skinned Mike and Jewish Stanley, respectively), each of the members of The Losers Club has a distinct personality which contributes to their different inner fears.
This constant window into their normal lives contributes largely to why things become scarier than they should be when the damn clown enters the picture. Bill Skarsgard's portrayal of Pennywise is very different from Tim Curry's original performance. His personality starts off mellow and childlike before becoming the balloon animal-creating demon that he is.
Pennywise's supernatural appearances aren't particularly surprising. In fact, most of his initial scares can be seen coming a mile away. But it's this sense of predictability, combined with the back and forth between the kids' daily lives and their encounters with the inhuman being, which makes follow-up horrors easier. It's never a good thing to spoil scares in a horror movie, but keep in mind that there can be more than one scary scene over the span of a few seconds.
Of course, the
clown isn't the only thing audiences should watch out for - this is a
shape-shifting monster that likes to change into whatever its victim fears
most, after all. Thanks to modern-day CGI, the special effects in this movie
are a big step up from what the 1990 miniseries had to offer. Even then, I
don't think that would justify some of the gore in certain scenes.
Another issue, one whose origins stem from the novel itself, is the addition of the bullies. Henry Bowers and his gang of horribly hairstyled cronies don't really add much to the experience. Sure, they help unite The Losers Gang, but isn't the presence of a demonic clown enough to accomplish this?
Henry himself goes through a weird story arc which tries to change the audience's perspective of him from a bully to a victim. This would have worked, if not for the fact that the film abandons this notion not ten minutes after introducing it; turning him from psychotic bully to psychotic murderer.
There are other elements aside from the bullies that also feel tacked on and unexplored. Beverly's abusive father and Eddie's overprotective mother come to mind; but no topic is more glaringly deprived of exposition than Pennywise's backstory. The entire subject almost goes completely unnoticed until one of the kids brings it up after conveniently spending part of his summer vacation reading about the town's history. And even after all this time in the library, there is little to be said on the clown's origins.
The finale of the film is by far its weakest point. Since The Losers Club is nearing its final confrontation with Pennywise, audiences are already prepared to steel themselves at every dark corner and flooded area. It becomes more like a conventional horror movie. While this isn't bad, it is an obvious step down from the unexpected horrors that ramped up to the film's conclusion.
I never thought I would say this about a clown movie, but you should watch It. This remake has a story loyal to its source material which is far better than most horror films. It can freak you out at the most predictable of times before catching you completely off-guard. Oh, and It is also a clown. Everybody hates clowns.