It’s 1988 in Derry, Maine. To a soundtrack of creepy kid’s choral music, brothers and best friends Bill and Georgie Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher and Jackson Robert Scott) have carefully folded a paper boat and shellacked it with wax so it will float. When little Georgie takes the boat into the street during a rainstorm it gets away from him, ending up in a storm sewer and in the gnarled hands of Pennywise The Dancing Clown a.k.a. It (Bill Skarsgård). Bozo the Clown he ain’t.
Suffice to say, Georgie doesn’t make it back home.
Bill, missing his brother, goes to elaborate lengths to figure out what happened. He builds a replica of the sewer system in hopes of discovering where Georgie may have ended up. He even recruits his “Loser’s Club” pals—New Kids on the Block fan Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the fast talking Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and their newest member Beverly (Sophia Lillis)—to give up there summer holiday to search underground sewer pipes for clues. “It’s the summer! We’re supposed to have fun,” Stan complains. “This isn’t fun. It’s scary and disgusting.”
As other kids go missing it is revealed that weird things have always happened in Derry. People die or disappear there at six times the national average and not just the adults. The numbers are worse for kids and as Bill’s schoolmates start to go missing he feels an urgent need to find out what’s going on, not just for Georgie but for everyone.
“It” is essentially “Stranger Things” with killer clowns. (Or should that be the other way around?) It harkens back to the era of kid lead action horror films like “Goonies” and “Monster Squad,” where preteens swear like sailors as they lose their innocence on screen. It’s a tried and true formula, one ripe with danger, humour, wrapped up with a nostalgic red ribbon. “It” gets it right, balancing an appealing cast of kids with a hint of old-school vulgarity to give the movie a scary edge.
It’s a story about overcoming fears, the power of loyalty and how, even in the most dire of circumstances, love can conquer all—even nasty clowns with glistening lips and rows of sharp teeth. Wedged in between those sentiments are at least one evil clogged drain scene that will make you wish Roto-Rooter got there first, some jump scares and a psychopathic town bully.
Most of all there is the clown, a manifestation of all your fears. Pennywise is the stuff of nightmares, a shape-shifter who adapts to the insecurities and anxieties of his victims. He taunts the kids—for instance he appears to Eddie, the hypochondriac as, “a leper and walking infection”—repelling and luring them with the things that terrify them most. It’s creepy enough to make you rethink your next trip to the circus.
“It” is a tad too long but makes up for its indulgent length with handsome production design and solid performances from the kids, especially Lieberher and Lillis.