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STARRING: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Finn Wolfhard
DIRECTOR: Andy Muschietti
RUNNING TIME: 135 minutes
THERE are few iconic characters in the horror genre more terrifying than Pennywise the Dancing Clown. He’s a cultural phenomenon, inspiring ‘crazy clown’ crazes across the world and still haunting children’s nightmares 31 years after Stephen King’s seminal novel.
He was brought to life in vivid, knee-knocking fashion by Tim Curry in 1990, and now Bill Skarsgård takes the reins and delivers a fantastically frightening performance that will leave many needing to sleep with a colostomy bag for the long nights ahead.
Regular reads will know that the horror genre is perhaps my least favourite, unfortunately due to the oversaturation of mindless slasher fare, spawning endless sequels each more unoriginal than the last.
However, I have a lot of time for psychological horror that plays on all the senses and creeps you out with a foreboding presence.
Another of King’s amazing works, The Shining, is a masterpiece that I would watch again and again. Whilst IT might not prove to be as much of a classic in terms of breaking new ground, it’s certainly just as good.
The story is set in the late 1980s in Derry, Maine, and little Georgie Denborough floats his paper boat down a rainy street and right into a drain, where a sewer-dwelling clown offers it back to him.
The boy’s subsequent disappearance brings together The Losers’ Club - a gang of scrawny, brainy kids, led by Georgie’s stuttering older brother Bill (Lieberher), to look for him … and find out why so many other kids in their town are suddenly going missing.
Soon Pennywise is popping up all over the place in various customised guises: a leper for the hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), a slab in a slaughterhouse for farm kid Mike (Chosen Jacobs), dead Georgie for Bill and, most poignant, a geyser of blood for Beverly (Sophia Lillis), who’s just gotten her first period. How subtle.
Director Andy Muschietti understands the petty foibles and ridiculousness of childhood friendships, and lets his dynamic young cast relish the screenplay’s snappy, spot-on dialogue. Exploratory missions into the sewers in search of a missing friends are opportunities to reveal the way each kid approaches problems - with humour, anxiety, bravery, or careful analysis - and the way the pubescent boys each react to the newfound friendship of Beverly - interested, confused, annoyed, shy, suspicious - also adds to their relatable teenage drama.
IT spends a significant amount of its lengthy running time on each of The Losers’ Club’s personal experiences with Pennywise in sequences that are perfectly horrifying, if slightly repetitive.
The formula begins to show itself as each child faces down their biggest phobia with similar resolutions, in succession: everyone has a distinct moment to wander off alone, look at the thing that scares them (a creepy painting, their own body, debilitating disease, and yes, even clowns) and then watch as that thing is warped to disturbing proportions by Pennywise. But even if you notice the pattern, each set piece is each different enough to be scary, and every character needs at least one moment to scream in terror.
Skarsgård’s malevolent, grinning creep is a definite improvement on the hammy Tim Curry incarnation, which is no mean feat considering Pennywise is one of the most visually extreme horror villains on record. Skarsgård cavorts, contorts and - thanks to the ingenuity of the visual effects team - completely ignores the laws of physics to create a monster whose appearance is so unnatural it’s hard to believe your eyes.
IT captures our affection for simpler times with constant visual references to 1980s nostalgia, like cinema buildings showing double-features Batman and Lethal Weapon 2, or arcade machines of the original Street Fighter.
In fact, on numerous occasions I had to remind myself that I wasn’t actually watching a repeat of last year’s Netflix throwback Stranger Things, an Eighties-themed smash hit that drew plenty of inspiration from IT. The similarities are uncanny (including a main character played by Finn Wolfhard) with one cinema-goer near me chastising IT for being a direct copy. Oh, the irony!
Ultimately, IT evokes Stephen King’s effortless melodrama and in-your-face psychological torments simultaneously, presenting a superb adaption to join the burgeoning list of successful takes on his novels.
Visually stunning and brilliantly acted, book your tickets now.
Just make sure you pack a spare change of underwear.
Now showing in: Novo, Cineco, Seef II, Wadi Al Sail, Saar, Al Jazira, Dana, Mukta A2
KRISTIAN’S VERDICT: 5/5