Stephen King terrified readers with his iconic horror novel back in 1986, which was adapted into a cult television movie. Now the red carpet has been rolled out as it receives a fresh adaptation with director Andy Muschietti pulling the strings. The story has been brought forward to the late 1980s where the kids of Derry, Maine are confronted by their worst fears. Following the strange disappearance of Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) at the hands of evil clown Pennywise (Bill Skårsgard), his big brother Billy (Jaeden Lieberher) rallies his friends together to hunt down the demon that has cursed their hometown.
With the updated time period, the film rides the wave of nostalgia that Stranger Things has enjoyed of late, and the clear influences are proudly emblazoned on the bedroom walls of the characters. As a coming-of-age comedy, the likeable group dynamic of the ‘Losers Club’ gives the narrative a Stand By Me-esque sense of youthful adventure as they ride around on their bikes and do battle in rock fights with the local bullies.
The film’s main issues lie with the fantastical horror elements, which suffer from shoddy special effects and a clichéd reliance on formulaic jump scares. A less-is-more approach might’ve made the villain more impactful, but the Pennywise scenes often verge on parody and are repetitive to the point of boredom. There were scattered moments of greatness and a freaky sequence involving a home-movie projector sticks out as a particular highlight, but they were too few and far between across a stretched running time.
We are introduced to a lot of characters throughout, and the ambitious screenplay tries to give a backstory to them all. Some are left underdeveloped but there’s room in the next instalment of the two-parter to expand. From this outing, I thoroughly enjoyed the relationship between Sophia Lillis and Jeremy Ray Taylor who portray super-cool Beverley and chubby new-boy Ben respectively, bonding over New Kids on the Block and poetry. Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard is also brilliant as wise-cracking nerd Richie, delivering a steady soda stream of fizzy one-liners that challenge the darkness of the subject matter.
Muschietti’s modern retelling of the King classic provides a lot of laughs but is far too light in fright, as the horror struggles to float to the heights of the comedy and is reduced to the sewers of genre stereotyping. The safe structure of the storytelling isn’t interesting enough for the complex misfit kids that muddle through it and this version of the villain fails to fill his oversized shoes, coming across as cringey rather than creepy.