Clowns are supposed to bring joy wherever they go. Whether it be children's parties, the circus, or in any similar instances, clowns, with their make-up, clothes, exaggerated smiles, and props are associated with good times and fun. Perhaps nowhere is that association more evident than in the mascot of one of the world's leading fastfood franchises. What happens then when that image of the humorous jester is twisted into a malevolent and twisted psychopath? That's the central premise behind the Stephen King novel and subsequent film adaptation, It.
Set in the fictional town of Derry, Maine between the years 1988-1989, the central plot of It revolves around the entity known as “Pennywise the Dancing Clown” played by Bill Skarsgård who lures 7-year-old Georgie Denbrough to a sewer when his paper boat is led there during a rainstorm. The clown viciously bites off one of Georgie's arms before dragging him into the sewer.
The following summer, Georgie's brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) is still haunted by what happened to Georgie. Never really popular in school, Bill and his friends Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff), and Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer) call themselves “The Losers' Club.” They're constantly tormented by the school bullies the Bowers Gang led by Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton). As Bill continues to pursue where Georgie could have ended up, the Losers' Club inadvertently adds three more outcasts: abuse victim Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), overweight bookworm Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), and homeschooled African-American Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs).
Each member of the Losers' Club is tormented by Pennywise in some form or another as the clown feeds on their individual fears. Only when the Club is assembled do they begin to figure out that Pennywise and the children around Derry that have been disappearing happen in a cycle of approximately every 27 years. Ben shares that Derry's past is marked by evil and darkness, and the entity that they begin to call “It” is responsible for some of the town's darkest chapters.
The Losers' Club eventually confronts Pennywise in the dilapidated Neibolt House eventually making their way down a well where the clown resides. It is there where Pennywise's malevolent intentions are manifested in full as he attempts to divide and devour all the fear in the children.
A remake of the 1990 mini-series which saw Tim Curry originating the role of Pennywise, this film by director Andy Muschietti is already breaking box-office records while sending chills down its audience's collective spines. Setting the film in the 1980s in a rural area, one can't help but compare It to other coming-of-age stories such as Stand By Me, Super 8, and even recent Netflix hit Stranger Things. A soundtrack rooted in the late 80s only helps to cement the mood and hearkens back to a simpler, more innocent time.
For a film like It to be successful, it isn't enough to have awesome special effects and scary moments. Perhaps the most critical factor is casting the right people in their respective roles. Skarsgård is clearly the revelation here. With a father and siblings already making waves in movies and television, it's now probably safe to say that Bill is adding to the Skarsgård family's acting dynasty. His Pennywise is all kinds of creepy, disturbing, and evil. The way his whole body shakes and the screams he releases are bone-chilling only make his performance more menacing. Apparently, Muschietti's directive to keep the children separate from Skarsgård was effective in making their reactions to his evil clown genuine.
Though Wolfhard has gained some fame from being on the aforementioned Stranger Things, Lieberher was on the last few seasons of Masters of Sex, and even Jacobs has been a semi-regular on Hawaii Five-O, the kids cast as The Losers' Club are still relative newcomers with short resumes in film and TV. With no “excess baggage” as far as being associated with previous roles, they seem even more fresh, and the terror they show when Pennywise attacks makes them even more sympathetic.
With It being a critical and box-office hit, and with King's novel already having the plot for a second chapter, we can't wait to see how Skarsgård will trigger your coulrophobia (or fear of clowns) if and when the It sequel is released.