The latest film from Stephen King‘s treasure trove of thrills and chills feels like a ruthless, unrelenting two-hour roller coaster ride. The only question that remains is if you’ve got the stamina for such an intense experience. This deeply atmospheric reimagining of King’s War and Peace-like manifesto of mayhem is a coulrophobiac’s worst nightmare. That’s someone with a fear of clowns, in case you weren’t sure. (Yes, I had to look it up.) The film’s paralyzing prankster (played brilliantly by Bill Skarsgård) will haunt the dreams of even the most ardent lover of clowns.
Like the very best coasters, the tension builds from the very first scene, ratcheting up the anxiety frame by unsettling frame. The main difference between the film and a roller coaster is that this ride completes the immersion with a flawlessly frightening, inescapable score. It even manages to get under your skin when it’s not trying to scare the hell out of you. The catch-your-breath moments lull you into a sense of security with a relaxed vibe reminiscent of another superb King treatment, 1986’s Stand By Me. They both feature young kids coming of age in the beautiful splendor of seemingly simple rural towns. The kids in both films lighten the mood with wonderfully witty (for their age) cracks and comebacks generally focused on sexually charged braggadocio.
Of course, no town is complete without a local bully to torment the weaker kids. Stand By Me‘s tyrant, Ace Merrill (a young Kiefer Sutherland in a career-launching performance), was a no-good jerk, but he can’t hold a candle to the maniacal misfit of It‘s Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and gang.
The film’s only potential flaw is in the rapidity of its scarier moments. They come so often and with such efficacy that we’re worn out by the middle of the ride. It’s simply too much of a good thing, like drinking too much of a great bottle of wine. The taste is sweet and memorable, but you’d better be prepared for the inevitable hangover.