by Tony Rutherford , HNN Entertainment Editor
Pennywise accomplishes Hannibal, Jason, Freddy evil incarnate in big screen adaptation of "It"

Set in the 1980s, Stephen King's "It" embodies an evil, murderous clown entity named Pennywise ((Bill Skarsgård)) as a supernatural incarnation of a creepy antagonist preying upon young children. He immediately rises to Hannibal Lector , Jason, Freddy or Jigsaw malevolence. He's a little Joker (Heath Ledger version) inspired too.

A town straight from the bliss of New England Americana has endured a heritage of killings --- a fact that most residents ignore.

It's a simple introduction ... Bill (the protagonist played by Jaeden Lieberher)  loses his  brother Georgie after he brings Bill glue from a scary cellar then goes playing in a strong rain where his paper boat floats into a sewer. Reaching for the boat, Georgie encounters Pennywise , a childish dancing entity dressed as a clown whose bloody tongue envelopes victims.

Director Andy Muschietti encompasses lightness and darkness to establish the spreading fears as more signs appear for a missing child. Darkness combines with bleakness and a propensity for lower camera angles which enhance dread and helplessness. George's lure into the sewer is as much about a gradual seduction as the swoosh when the kid loses his arm and falls into the drain.

Flash forward to the last day of class at  Derry Middle School which will bring Bill, Eddie  , Stanley,  Richie, Mike, Ben and Beverly (Sophia  Lillis) together as they endure and eventually fight off a crew of bullies. Each of the kids have various frailties linked in part to family circumstances. For instance, Red headed Bev has an undeserved "slut" rep, which hails memories of Molly Ringwald's poverty stricken character Andie  from "Pretty in Pink."

Pennywise for viewers fluctuates from a "real" or "imagined" demonic character, especially when he changes shapes appearing inside the bodies of others and executes a hellish painting coming to life. These encounters --- whether apparitions or fiendish spaghetti strands --- exacerbate their lack of confidence, physical ineptness and fears ( a burning house, lepers, a dead brother).

Muschietti's tempting, tense and suspenseful direction strongly benefits from screenwriters who craftily weave the jump in your seat horrors along an initially secondary coming of age theme.

Lillis' Bev has a sense of fragility molded over a caged fighter.  She's shouldering parental abuse along with a mounting rage to escape her family circumstances and whip sexist standards. Lillis emerges as a quasi-mom and leader of the pack, which hints at a still controversial portion of King's novel: The Loser's physical bonding with her.

 (Concerning the scene in the novel, Steven King wrote on a fan page : “I wasn’t really thinking of the sexual aspect of it… Intuitively, the Losers knew they had to be together again. The sexual act connected childhood and adulthood.” )

Credit Muschietti's inventiveness for powerful alternatives which carve survival, growth, and  future. King himself enthusiastically endorsed the screenplay where the boy's muse intervenes with "stop, focus" at a pivotal moment. 

"It" has embraced a radical balance ---  scares from an underworld well,  desperation in the dripping pipes of a sewer system--- segue to the bright sun shining over the marquee of a downtown theater playing an iconic 1989 double feature. Locations such as a school , library or swimming hole all have overlapping darkness, symbolically trusting Pennywise's frightening, daunting  influence into daily routines.  

An unexpected "she said" caught me off guard --- weren't you unimpressed by the formula? Her point refers to the relationship of  strings of young  teens enjoying adventures of a lifetime ( recall Spielberg's "ET," and "Goonies").   Although she dunked significant  points from the film's evaluation , I saw the young buddies horrific battle with the disturbing unearthly Pennywise  offsetting the more uplifting fantasies.