IT (8 out of 10) Directed by Andy Muschietti; Written by Chase Palmer & Cary Fukunaga; Starring Bill Skarsgård; Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Rated R for violence/horror, bloody images, and for language; Running time 135 minutes; In theaters September 8.
I don’t think I ever want to see a red balloon again. Or a clown. Or a yellow raincoat. And particularly not those three things together.
The second Stephen King adaption to grace the big screen this summer (lest we forget about the unremarkable Dark Tower), It is a startling reminder why we’re terrified of clowns.
Director Andy Muschietti not only faces the inevitable comparison to the source material, but he also must endure discussions related to the 1990 mini-series that starred the delightfully sinister Tim Curry and the late Jonathan Brandis.
And though we know this is a supernatural Stephen King tale with a creepy clown, we are otherwise placed in a world that feels like home. Set in the late 1980’s in small-town Derry, the story focuses on a group of bullied, “loser” kids. The themes are familiar to films of that era, and the group of boys riding their bikes through town in chase of adventure is also echoed in nostalgia-laden Stranger Things, which is itself an homage to 1980’s films like E.T. and Goonies. The show’s Finn Wolfhard is also Ritchie in It. The other boys are Georgie’s older, stuttering brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher); Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Stan (Wyatt Oleff).
The opening scenes follow little Georgie as he races his paper boat down the water-slogged streets during a rainstorm. The boat is found by Pennywise, a nightmarish clown played by Bill Skarsgård. The mood of these scenes vacillates between Georgie’s innocence and knowledge of the horror that awaits him and sets the tone for the rest of the film. The good-natured ribbing between the friends creates lightness and humor in between the scares. We are never allowed to forget that these are children living their worst fears, and this adds tension to the sequences.
There are also several scenes that remind us that these are young boys just starting to learn about the world and talk to girls. When Beverly (aka Amy Adams look-alike Sophia Lillis) joins the group, they can’t take their eyes off her. And Ben’s (Jeremy Ray Taylor) crush on her is adorable. When Beverly and Ben first meet, he’s listening to music on his headphones. Remember, it’s the late 1980’s. I won’t ruin the surprise, but there are some throwbacks to this scene in the film, and the audience laughed with good-natured humor at the references.
For a horror film, there was a lot of laughter. But it was at appropriate times, when the dialogue was sharp and witty, or the nervous, relieved laughter just after a scare.
This film only adapts the first part of the novel, but the kids are such great characters and brought to life so wonderfully by the young actors that I dread the time jump of the next film.
This movie is charming, funny, horrible, and terrifying. It’s about friendship and fears and facing demons real and imagined. I had no idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised. Worth seeing, but you may not want to go straight to bed afterwards. And if you do, you may want to keep the lights on.