By Idris Joyner ’21
Clowns are creepy no matter what. We can all agree on that, right?
But Pennywise, the dancing clown who hunts and torments the children of small-town Maine in “It,” is deeply unsettling. At least, he is in the latest edition of Stephen King’s iconic novel. Especially when Tim Curry’s take on the character in the 1990 TV version was so over-the-top, it was laughable, not that you’re looking for an understatement in your homicidal clowns.
But how Bill Skarsgard plays the role, it works so well precisely because he doesn’t look like he’s is trying very hard to frighten us. He doesn’t vamp it up. He’s timid, he toys with these kids, making his sudden bursts of clown insanity that much more scary.
Even more effective than the horror elements of Argentine director Andy Muschietti’s adaptation is the unexpected humor he reveals in the story—and, ultimately, the humanity. Finding that combination of tones is such a tricky balance to pull off: the brief lightening of a tense moment with a quick wisecrack, or an earnest monologue in the face of extreme danger. But “It” makes that work nearly every time, thanks to its perfectly graded performances from a well-chosen cast.
The kid-bonding parts of the movie are actually stronger than the creepy-clown parts, even though part of that freakish, unusual fiend will be the ones that keep you up at night. Led by “Midnight Special” star Jaeden Lieberher, and including a star-making performance from Sophia Lillis as the crew’s lone female member, it’s it basically a bunch of unknown actors who make up the group in the movie “Losers Club.” But their characters are distinctly drawn, each with a creepy backstory that explains why their fears make them so vulnerable to Pennywise’s attacks.
“It” could have used a bit of tightening as it builds toward its climax, though. While the symbolism is certainly chilling and even emotional in the action-packed third act, some of it feels dragged out and unnecessary. And because the final encounter takes place within a dark, underground lair, it seems difficult to tell exactly what’s going on, despite the impressive visual effects on display as Pennywise unleashes his full powers on his young attackers.
Not to burst your balloon, though, but the closing credits suggest this may not be the last we’ve seen of Pennywise after all.