A small synopsis for anyone who somehow missed the 1990 miniseries or had never read the book: After the disappearance of his little brother Georgie, teenage Bill Denbrough and his group of misfit buddies (“The Loser Club”) unravel the evil lurking within the small town of Derry, Maine. This evil literally feeds on fear, thusly preying upon children at their most vulnerable, all while personified as a friendly clown named Pennywise.
Having been raised with the original, and have taken a retrospective look at it plenty of times, I can confidently say that I prefer this remake despite the iconicity of Tim Curry’s performance. (Or is it a reboot? I feel like I used to know the difference, but now I think they’re one and the same.)
Additionally I read the book years and years ago, so though I couldn’t make an accurate comparison, I am thrilled to bits that this film did NOT include one of the most pointlessly disturbing scenes in Stephen King lore.
A key difference is this story is based in the 1980s – the time in American history when every high school/college was rampant with homicidal bullies. This is a welcomed change, as modernizing provides different options for altering the fears just enough, making them more general to any audience. For instance, not every kid grew up fearing the Mummy, but I’m pretty sure every kid has seen a picture that genuinely shook them to the point of averting their eyes in the event of reoccurring glances.
Generalizing like this creates a sense of timelessness, altering how the Losers face their fears: The original relies on superstition and denial, i.e. silver and “battery acid” (aptly childish), whereas the remake has more bravery and determination, i.e. standing up and beating the ever-loving crap out of him (violent, but ultimately satisfying).
And as the Losers conquer their fears, the heaviness and permanence of the world topples with it, creating a coming-of-age/innocence lost experience with a startling degree of depth and humor, not unlike Stand By Me.
As far as scares go, It ultimately creates an atmosphere that amplifies the children’s’ fears without pandering to an adult audience. Each trauma is genuinely scary, and I appreciate that. I found Bill Skarsgård’s portrayal of Pennywise to be absolutely enthralling: his movements and demeanor flip from playful to utterly disturbing without missing a beat.
The physical design of the character has a more literal sense of mentioned timelessness, implying that this creature has been around for centuries, but knows to lure children all you need is a goofy outfit and a big smile. Or clowns have always been creepy no matter what the era. Especially if they drool on you.
It is a great start for this Halloween season. With any luck, I’ll be seeing mother! next.