Bill Skarsgård stars as ‘Pennywise the Dancing Clown’ in Stephen King’s ‘It.’ Photo Source: geekytyrant
Victoria Brown, Arts and Entertainment’s Co-Editor.
I left the midnight premiere last week with mixed feelings. I wanted to give it another chance so I researched the director, actors and film crew and went to see ‘It’ a second time a few days later, but the mixed feelings weren’t resolved. While I understood and appreciated what the filmmakers did, I couldn’t help feeling a little disheartened. But not for the reasons you may think.
Alongside J.K. Rowling, Stephen King is my favourite author. I read ‘It’ for the first time when I was 11 years old (it took me almost two months to finish the 1,200 page novel,) and saw the original TV mini-series shortly after. And clowns have freaked me out ever since. I was never a huge fan of them, probably because of a creepy clown doll my great-aunt got me that used to stare down at me from the top of my wardrobe. But it was definitely Tim Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise, the demonic shapeshifter who feeds off children’s fears (and later the children themselves) that planted the fear in my mind. And I think that was part of the problem going in to see Andy Muschietti’s 2017 adaption.
I don’t like the word ‘remake,’ as it implies the filmmakers are going to replicate the original. Perhaps ‘reimagining’ is a better word to use, because that it definitely what Muschietti has done. I was expecting the film to be incredibly similar to the original – don’t ask me why, because I usually don’t – but this film goes far beyond it. That’s what I realised after my second viewing. What I took away from the film was that it’s not a ‘horror’ film, in the commonly understood sense of the word, but an artistic exploration of ‘terror’ and ‘fear.’ And I think that it’s why I felt disheartened. I went in expecting to be as scared as I was with the original, but the director’s Latin American blend of the aesthetically beautiful and fantastical creepiness has resulted in a film that goes beyond the typical jump-scare horror film.
‘It’ is the story of seven children – Bill, Eddie, Richie, Beverly, Ben, Mike and Stan – who come face to face with a supernatural creature that has terrorised their home town of Derry, Maine since the town was founded. They discover that the creature returns every 27 years to feed on the fear of children. ‘Pennywise the Dancing Clown’ is arguably ‘It’s’ favourite persona, but it can appear as a tailored representation of individual children’s deepest fears. Eddie, for example, is a hypochondriac so rather than appearing as Pennywise, he appears as a leper who Eddie later describes as a “walking infection.”
The original narrative floated back and forth between present-day and flashbacks but screenwriters Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Duaberman chose to portray this narrative linearly and I think it was a good call. This ‘chapter’ of the ‘It’ universe focuses exclusively on the main characters’ childhood battle with the creature, and it makes it a lot easier to connect with the children. Casting director, Rich Delia deserves credit for finding such amazing young actors. The banter between them is not only believable, but it’s hilarious. Truly laugh-out-loud funny. I’m not sure about other horror fans, but personally I very rarely care about the characters in horror films. Usually, I zone out during the non-scary bits because I’m waiting to be frightened. But in ‘It’ the audience can identify with and care for these kids. You want them to succeed. This is a key element that the original mini-series missed out on. The brilliant performances from the young actors raises ‘It’ above conventional horror films.
Obviously the biggest thing surrounding ‘It’ is the portrayal of Pennywise. The mini-series had a much smaller budget which resulted in the film appearing more gritty and realistic (for me, anyway.) What scared me most about Tim Curry’s portrayal was that he didn’t come across as a manic supernatural creature. Curry’s costume looked like he had stolen it from a thrift shop, the make-up looked professionally done, and rather than using jump-scares, Curry often just followed the kids around and this terrified me. Curry came across as more of a paedophilic stalker. His Pennywise was a horrifyingly plausible reality. So when I went to see this reimaging of ‘It,’ I was expecting to see a similar characterisation. I advise you now: do not do this. Do not go in with specific expectations. Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise is a complete reimagining of the character, and it is incredible.
Skarsgard explained to Metro.co.uk that it was always important for him to “reinvent It and interpret It in a different way,” and he does this perfectly. While Curry’s portrayal reeked of adult calculation, Skarsgard has created an erratic and infantile creature that has a terrifying mad unpredictability. Editor Jason Ballantine’s use of jump-scares is conventional (if a little predictable,) but because you identify with the kids you can feel the fear that Pennywise causes. There are elements of his performance that boarder on funny – my sister and I cried with laughter at a particular scene with a severed arm – but this only adds to Pennywise’s madness. It’s his unpredictable mania that ranks his performance far above Curry. The physical appearance also adds to the creepiness. The costume reflects a bygone era, with elements of the Renaissance, the Elizabethan, and Victorian eras. The doll-like appearance accentuates Skargard’s infantile performance, and it serves to highlight just how long Pennywise has been terrorising Derry. He is an old creature, and that is something Curry missed out entirely. His eyes and voice further add to Pennywise’s manic nature, pay particular attention to them when you watch the film. I cannot praise Skargard’s performance enough. It is a credit to his performance that he comes across so creepy despite being ridiculously attractive without the make-up and CGI.
Overall, while ‘It’ was not what I was expecting, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. I cannot emphasise enough that it is a complete reimaging of the original visual representation. The film’s fantastical creepiness is more true to the world Stephen King created, and as a book-lover I am more inclined to appreciate a film that sticks to the author’s creation.