Review: ‘It’ Brings Back Stephen King’s Killer Clown


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The new film adaptation of Stephen King’s “It” stars Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise the clown.

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Brooke Palmer/Warner Bros.

Late in the summer of 1989, the marquee of the downtown movie theater in Derry, Me., advertises “A Nightmare on Elm Street 5.” This is an accurate period detail, and also a declaration of kinship, if not outright homage. “It,” Andy Muschietti’s adaptation of the novel by Stephen King, belongs in the same tradition of small-town terror as Wes Craven’s “Nightmare” franchise, though the question of influence has a certain chicken-and-egg quality. Pennywise the clown, the designated predator in “It,” (played by Bill Skarsgard) is, like Freddy Krueger, an avatar of deep childhood fears. And like Freddy, he’s also the literal, lethal manifestation of the evil of the world. As such, he has the potential to spawn endless sequels. He’ll be back.

Or rather, he is back. Mr. Muschietti’s “It,” written by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman, represents a second trip to this particular well. Mr. King’s novel, published in 1986, was adapted for network television in 1990. The new movie, a skillful blend of nostalgic sentiment and hair-raising effects, with the visual punch of big-screen digital hocus-pocus and the liberties of the R rating, still has the soothing charm of familiarity. The gang of misfit ’80s kids who face down the clown and the deeper horror he represents evoke both the middle school posse of the recent TV series “Stranger Things” (there’s some overlap in the cast), but also the intrepid brotherhood from “Stand by Me,” surely one of the all-time top five Stephen King movie adaptations.

We can argue about the others — I’m happy to make a case for John Carpenter’s underrated “Christine” — but this “It” doesn’t quite ascend to their level. Nonetheless, the filmmakers honor both the pastoral and the infernal dimensions of Mr. King’s distinctive literary vision. Derry, with its redbrick storefronts and its quirks and kinks, seems like a genuinely nice place to live in spite of the fact that its citizens, children in particular, turn up missing or maimed at an alarming rate.

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