The small figure in the bright yellow slicker runs through the street river and the camera zooms with him to his point of view…just as he whams into a barrier and falls flat on his back with a satisfying (and rather funny) thwump. It’s unlikely this’ll be the only spike of Stephen Kingesque macabre humour that you see in Andrés “Mama” Muschietti’s movie adaptation of It, but you’ll be laughing on the other side of your face soon – Pennywise’ll see to that.
The film (which floated in development hell for the last 15 or so years) follows the famous 1990 television mini-series in which Tim Curry’s Pennywise terrorises a small New England town and made generations of kids at home scared of clowns. This is the first of a two-film deal and focuses on the children’s story. The adult’s take is rumoured to start filming in the next few months.
Stephen King’s state of Maine is depicted here in detail truer to form than we’ve seen before. From bird’s eye views to lamp post-level peeks, it showcases locations taken direct from the novel. It remixes the repetition that comes from the boredom and paranoia of small town life with abject horror. A street sign that King’s ‘constant readers’ will recognise leads via creaking soundtrack to the squeaking door of the house with rotting wallpaper runners that perhaps isn’t as empty as it seems.
The snippets shown are more about malevolence than obvious monsters. Even the scenery makes the angles look wrong and you can’t help but feel uncomfortable and the cinematography is equally claustrophobic. The rain into which little Georgie (the yellow-slickered kid) runs is awfully heavy… it’s a place obscured because the people living there choose to see issues ranging from racism to child abuse as little storms that’ll pass if you just close the curtains fast enough. Gore wise, the trailer for this R-rated flick belches up a blood- blackened geyser and the soot of burned hands it’ll take more than a rag to wash away.
Ah, but you wanna know about the clown, doncha? Pennywise – the It of the title (or part of it, anyways) – is present and correct. Gone is the gurning, controlled campery of Tim Curry that strayed from the sleazy spectre of the novel. Instead, It looks like we may have a new horror icon on our trembling hands. This Pennywise still messes with memories, sure, but Bill Skarsgård’s version is sleazy, sadistic and not too proud to just jump out and go ‘boo!’
The outfit is based on Victorian clowns and is light and frivolous – all silver floating lace and romantic ruffles that are oddly grounded by a bulbous head and billowing red hair. It looks half fairylike, half like Ronald McDonald on a killer sugar high. It shifts. One moment, movements are sly – the bite of a lip that’s almost (fittingly) flirty and crocodile-surfacing eyes, at other times It’s just an adrenaline-rush flailing chaos at It charges at the screen. This clown’s enjoying using Its body to intimidate Its prey, but It’s also toying with Its body just because It can.
Perhaps the most important thing is the voices, though. They’ll echo across time. Bill (Jaeden Lieberher, as the leader of the Losers’ Club that battle the beast) is the boy around whom the original story revolves. By beautiful coincidence in this trailer at least, Bill seems the first of the boys whose voice is noticeably breaking. It isolates him, particularly in the second where he audibly falters and his friends help him thrust his fist forward into a darkened tunnel. It’s also a complete counterpoint to the giggle-goad that comes convincingly from the kid brother who now floats under the clown’s command. The rest still sound like children, but the trailer does a wonderful job of picking out their individual characters one by one.
Ben (seemingly terrified his girth will disrupt the space around him) finger tiptoes his body around to see if he wants a library balloon; Richie (Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard) has a wickedly lairy t-shirt that could only belong to a Trashmouth who just can’t help it (and who drops the ‘f’ bomb if you listen carefully enough to the Instagram-released trailer); Stan is kosher and as unmoving as you please; Bev is recast from the miniseries’ mousy moppet to a street smart sass with a great set of lungs on her and Eddie has a run in with a not-quite hidden monster (pause the trailer and take a peak) that’ll leave him in need of a shot of fresh air.
Perhaps the most intriguing is Mike, who’s far more believably assertive and practical this time around (which will probably come in use for rounding the adult versions of the characters back up in the second film). The bullying Bowers gang are seen only in tantalisingly brief snippets kicking about ready to take their own balloons from the clown.
Derry, May 2017: the wait.
This writer has seen a draft of the Cary Fukunaga script, provided when that director left the project. While some key scenes had (in that draft) been updated from those in the book and miniseries, the story’s core is kept and it is clear from leaked set photographs that some sequences written for that script have at least been shot, though whether or not they’ll be seen in the film is another question.
More pressingly, there is a notable diversity in the background artists even in the trailer. It also looks as though the production team are wary of avoiding what some have seen as a failing in King’s historical representation of people of colour as the so-called ‘magical negro’ trope, where African American characters function to educate or sacrifice themselves for white characters. This may mean we hear Mike’s history and its references to the real terrors of our current time. Fighting back against evil? As King says in It’s opening: “Kids, fiction is the truth inside the lie, and the truth of this fiction is simple enough: the magic exists”.