The fear of clowns, “coulrophobia,” isn’t yet listed in the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but, three decades ago, Stephen King seemed to be trying to single-handwritingly stoke such fear with his creaky-doorstopper It. Now, a year after “creepy clown” sightings struck the U.S. and Canada, the flame-haired, snaggle-jag-toothed Pennywise blood-red-noses itself onto the big screen—looking to strike more terror into the hearts of the circus-wary everywhere. This adaptation, too eager to snoop into scuzzy nightmarish corners, takes us on a ‘loooong’ carousel ride through a King-Land theme park.
As a foursome lingers at a sewer’s gaping mouth, searching for Bill’s (Jaeden Lieberher) brother Georgie and the truth behind other missing kids in the town of Derry, Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) protests, “This isn’t fun. This is scary and disgusting.”
Stan could be talking about the movie he’s found himself in—horror, after all, needs colour, spirit, and realism to spice up its chills. As this troupe of outsiders, headed by Bill, grows to include chubby history-sleuth Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), redhead object-of-stares Beverly (Sophia Lillis), and black farmboy Mike (Chosen Jacobs), the adult world remains grotesquely demi-adult. Almost every post-pubescent’s an obese housebound mom, a lecherous pharmacist, a sadistic bully out of The Outsiders meets The Warriors, or a father so scuzzily awful in the dingy hallways of his home that his night job must be ‘local serial killer.’
Derry’s most prolific murderer is a creature all too happy to take the form of that painted jester, Pennywise, feeding on fear. But it’s a too-long (130 min.), too-rambling trek to the meta-horror face-off with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s idea that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” En route, there’s a haunted house which looks ’coptered’ in from a studio lot, an F/X-indulgent blood-gusher trying to out-Kubrick The Shining, and plenty of King flourishes reduced to nervous tics: Maine small town setting, no helpful adults, childhood gang of steadfast pals, fairytale allusions, etc. It doesn’t help that Finn Wolfhard, playing the club’s smartass/comic-relief, who stars in Stranger Things, the hit series that’s a better homage to and redux of King books and ’80s tween-terror flicks than this It is itself.