Twenty-seven years after Tim Curry traumatized children the world over in the fan favourite 1990 miniseries, Pennywise the Clown makes his big screen debut in the first of Andrés Muschietti’s two part adaptation of Stephen King’s It. The novel is split between two time periods but Muschietti wisely chooses to focus solely on the Losers’ Club as children – the seven outcast kids brought together by the terrifying appearance of an ancient evil preying on the town’s youth.
From the very beginning it’s clear the film does a few things perfectly. The young cast are all great and some of the best scenes are the self-proclaimed Losers chatting together, hurling insults and profanities like an extreme version of Stand By Me. Finn Wolfhard, one of the young stars from the hit series Stranger Things, is hilarious as the loud mouth Richie, while Sophia Lillis is a standout as the sole female of the group Beverly. Most impressively of all is the man taking over the role Curry made famous in Swedish actor Bill Skarsgård, who dials down the exaggerated deliriousness in a performance that is at times disturbingly childlike, otherworldly and entirely creepy. His distinctive voice and rubbery smile combine for a terrifying creation, an impossibly brilliant update on an already iconic character.
Unfortunately after a phenomenal opening the movie settles into a formula that quickly loses its spark. The repetition sucks away some of that initial tension, leading to a finale that while enjoyable, is never as scary as it aims to be. The film is also hampered by an overuse of CGI for the title character – a frustrating outcome given Skarsgård’s chilling performance and the fact that audiences generally don’t need any extra effects to be terrified by clowns. For all its faults though, It is undeniably better than its predecessor and one of the best mainstream horror films in years.