A Fun Horror Film
Director Andrew Muschietti and screenwriters Chase Palmer and Cary Fukunaga do something very interesting with their big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s hugely popular novel It. They take the thrills and chills of horror and, rather than use them as a cheap means of simply scaring our pants off, they are used for an entirely different purpose: to create a sense of fun. That’s right, a horror film that is fun.
That’s not to say It isn’t scary. It is. But everything else in the story seems so delightfully familiar and endearing, it’s a blast to be put on the edge of our seats with the knowledge that something so unsettling is lurking just beneath the surface. And in the age of dime-a-dozen horror flicks that struggle to invent the next big gimmick, it’s actually quite refreshing when the thrills and chills provide the much-needed break from all the pleasantness. How’s that for something new?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the film’s unsettling moments come from a demented clown who lives in the sewer system of Derry, Maine, a small burg that stands in for Anytown USA. The clown is a shapeshifting predator who emerges from his cesspool every 27 years to feed on the fears of his chosen prey: the town’s children. Don’t be fooled by the clown’s penchant for offering colorful balloons nor by his vaudevillian moniker. Pennywise, the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård) is a bad, bad dude who would just as soon hug your face with his rows of detachable teeth as he would throw you peanuts. Skarsgård absolutely sinks himself into the role and gives us one of the most frightening, yet memorable, villains in recent memory. Working clowns around the world are afraid of the ramifications, and they should be.
It teems with loads of heart and soul provided by a ragtag group of seven middle school outcasts. They call themselves the Losers Club, and each has been terrorized in some way, whether iby the local pack of school bullies or by a dysfunctional home life. But they gain strength in being together and, as is the case with many of King’s novels, the story’s beauty comes from the way he juxtaposes fear and terror against the experience of growing up. Smartly, Muschietti never loses sight of that, and as a result, It is frightening, fun, relevant, and meaningful, all at the same time.
Leading our pack of lovable losers is Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) whose world is rocked when little brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) mysteriously disappears while chasing a paper boat into a storm drain. Unsatisfied by his father’s calls to face the fact that his brother is dead, Bill joins up with his group of friends after school to find out why the town’s children go missing at six times the national average.
The Losers Club gets rounded out by chubby kid and de facto town historian Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), foul-mouthed Richie (Finn Wolfhard), who stands in as the comic relief, cute-girl-with-a-bad-reputation Beverly (Sophia Lillis), and others whose charming chemistry gives us a strong sense that the film belongs right alongside Stranger Things or even Stand By Me. In fact, there’s a nice little montage with the kids walking along railroad tracks as a train goes by. Brilliant little flourishes like these set It apart from the crowd. In fact, we occasionally wonder what the film might have been had the horror elements been dropped altogether. Those heartfelt moments are that strong by themselves.
This film isn’t without problems, however. A second act slogs a bit, and there are some tonal inconsistencies throughout that keep the experience from floating to its intended lofty heights. Also, Muschietti very nearly overuses his Pennywise to the point of diminishing returns. The more we see of him, the less effective his demonic dealings become. And a bit more background into the wall-eyed clown and his motivations might have lent the proceedings an even stronger sense of danger.
Steeped in a heavy 80s-drenched look and feel, It jumps on the current nostalgia bandwagon and plays to our childhood memories while at the same time preying on the things that we fear the most: being attacked by the things that we fear the most.
(Released by New Line Cinema and rated “R” for violence/horror, bloody images, and for language.)
Also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.