Cinema has a new and ferocious monster yet It is much more than just a horror film.

What is it about clowns that many people find creepy? Because they hardly ever talk and are full of nasty tricks? Or perhaps because they are supposed to be funny yet that perpetual smile seems to suggest that an evil plan is being hatched. If you are one of those people who are uncomfortable around clowns, then brace yourself for It, a well-made horror film based on a classic story from none other than the ‘Master of the Macabre’ – Stephen King.

As a horror writer, many of King’s novels have found its way to the big screen, of which The Shining and Misery are still considered horror film classics, while The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile received multiple Academy Award nominations even though these are not horror films. From personal experience, I still consider Salem’s Lot his most terrifying film adaptation. Both the book and the 1979 film adaptation resulted in many sleepless nights. That said, when King’s books do well in cinema, it is almost always due to the director and production quality of the film being adapted (The Shining + Stanley Kubrick = classic). The same is also true when his books flop as films, which was very unfortunate for Pet Sematary and Cujo, as these are both terrifying books to read. Published in 1986 and adapted into a two-part TV series in 1990, It was generally well received but mainly due to actor Tim Curry’s praiseworthy performance as Pennywise the clown. Now exactly 27 years later, It gets a shiny new remake for the big screen and it works, but not just as a horror film.

The number 27 has significance in the story. You’ll know why when you watch the film, but going by the book, the film adaptation is only half the story. Directed by Andrés Muschietti (whose previous effort was the lukewarm horror film Mama), the film opens with a terrifying prelude that introduces us to Pennywise, the central and evil antagonist often seen in the form of a clown. This is the scariest part of the film owing to watertight tension and an atmosphere thick with dread. But by the time we get to the end, Muschietti has traded some of that atmosphere for several jump scares. Thanks to well-engineered sound effects, these are not cheap or clichéd but nowhere near that dose of terror we were served at the beginning of the film.

While It works as a horror film, it really shines as a coming of age film amped up with a strong retro vibe. As an 80s kid watching this film, I was latched on with boyish nostalgia. Outside Muschietti’s method of inducing fear, what is done right is capturing the mindset of pre-teen kids from a small town in Maine (many of King’s books are about towns in Maine). From that perspective, this film stays true to the book by bringing back a great sense of adventure, mystery, fantasy, puppy love, peer pressure, and then heart-break and even terror. Together all seven of them are great, but it is when these kids are on their own or isolated from the rest that the horror mechanisms in the film goes to work. It is also where imagination conjures the most bone-chilling images and sounds that only a kid that age can manifest. Pennywise, remarkably done by Bill Skarsgård, is one of those images and the very definition of a ferocious monster in modern cinema. Which tells me that as far as clowns go, there could be a huge drop in kids’ birthday parties at McDonald’s. Just saying.

Rating: ★★★★☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.