IT ARRIVES, AND FEEDS ON OUR FEARS
Review by Ray Schillaci
The new iteration of Stephen King’s IT wastes no time getting off to a screaming start. There’s a sweet sense of nostalgia taking place in the small town of Derry as Billy and his younger brother, six year-old Georgie, build a paper boat establishing a touching brotherly moment. Georgie ventures out in the rain to sail their new boat down the wet street where he eventually loses it down a drain gutter. And, for any of you who have not seen the trailer, that’s where Georgie first encounters Pennywise, the Dancing Clown…inside that dark drain gutter.
After a brief and nerve-wracking exchange, Pennywise feeds viciously, and the audience is left in shock. That minute or so of watching that innocent child get graphically attacked is so disturbing that it may just turn some people away. The scene is a stunner that made the audience gasp, and prepared us for everything Stephen King is famous for: nostalgia, bonding of childhood friends, the cruelties kids and adults inflict on one another, and monsters – both supernatural and human.
Director Andy Muschietti, best known for the spooky thriller Mama, ratchets up the fright factor several notches with possibly one of the best Stephen King adaptations since 1983’s The Dead Zone (omitting Stand By Me, Green Mile and Shawshank – since they are of a different genre). The town of Derry and its residence feel like they’ve been lifted from an ’80s Spielberg movie or the popular Netflix series Stranger Things, only with a much stronger bite (pun intended). For those who love basking in the feel-good time of growing up in the late ’80s, Muschietti captures a wonderful sweet spot. But for all those feel good moments, the director and his team of writers counter it with a nasty creepiness that eventually turns to hair-raising horror. The combination is like the wildest of rollercoaster thrill rides.
For those uninitiated to King’s fright fest, IT is the story of seven children who happen to be the misfits of the school that bond together to overcome not only their minor adversities, but the very worst in bullies, adults, and one monstrous being, Pennywise the Dancing Clown, that not only feeds on young people’s fears, but literally snacks on them as well. And boy does that nasty clown like to play with his food.
Eight months after Bill Denbrough loses his brother, he and his friends begin to relate the visions they’re being tormented with. A grotesque leper, a disfigured woman with a piccolo that jumps out of a painting, hair that streams and attacks from a sink, and an evil looking clown, to name a few. Ben Hascomb, a sensitive boy that happens to have a crush on the young girl of the group, Beverly, reveals that he has been obsessed with Derry’s lurid past (he also has a secret liking for New Kids on the Block). The town has had more missing persons in a certain time slot than anywhere else in the nation for a very long time. Specifically children.
We’re not introduced to the kids as immediate friends. We gradually witness this small group of young misfits band together; Bill has a stutter, Jack is fragile and relies heavily on an inhaler, Richie wears bifocal type glasses and has a motormouth, Ben is overweight, Stan is Jewish (which in a small town can be a negative), Mike is black and the new kid in town, and Beverly has been labeled the town slut, but is really the unfortunate child of abuse and molestation by her father. Yes, some of this may come across as stereotypes, but much to the credit of director Muschietti, the friendships come across genuine.
Muschietti does not sugar coat these kids’ problems. We see their frustration with family, labeling, and abuse. The bullying is portrayed in a very dangerous manner, a rock fight between the bullies and the misfits becomes brutal, and Beverly’s disgust with her father’s advances is acutely uncomfortable. But at the same time, there is the fun banter of the group about bullies and life in general. It seems like Muschietti and his writing team capture the lightning in the bottle when it comes to portraying the light and darkness of growing up.
Amongst all of this is the mystery of Derry, and Pennywise. We merely get glimpses of where he might have started, what he’s after, and what he has left in his wake. The visions the Dancing Clown creates are jolting at times, delivering plenty of jump scares, but not one of them feels like a cheat.
All the kids are fresh and fun in their portrayals of their characters. Although, some do not have as much to do as others. The stand outs are Jaeden Lieberher (St. Vincent, Midnight Special) as Bill, Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) as Richie, and Sophia Lillis (37, A Midsummer Night’s Dream) as the angst-ridden yet utterly charming Beverly. She is the beacon amongst the kids.
Then there is Bill Skarsgård (Hemlock Grove, Atomic Blonde), attempting to fill the very big shoes of Tim Curry who had played Pennywise so memorably in the TV movie. Skarsgård knocks it out of the graveyard, creeping us out at every turn, and terrifying us when on the attack. Much thanks also has to go to the effects team that gives Pennywise a nightmarish Tim Burton quality. But, with Burton somehow things usually feel safe. Something we never get that chance to feel. Pennywise merely smiles, and it delivers chills.
IT is a nightmare-induced fright show that has more than just scares coming at us. Muschietti’s film is thoughtful, funny, and believe it or not, a feel-good movie as well. IT is also only “chapter one” of a dual film, which although does not leave us hanging, IT makes us look forward to much more.
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Release Date: September 8, 2017
Run Time: 135 Minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers