Director: Andy Muschietti
Cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Bill Skarsgård, Nicholas Hamilton, Jake Sim, Logan Thompson, Owen Teague, Jackson Robert Scott, Stephen Bogaert, Stuart Hughes, Geoffrey Pounsett
MPAA Rating: (for violence/horror, bloody images, and for language)
Running Time: 2:15
Release Date: 9/8/17
Review by Mark Dujsik | September 7, 2017
How much of the creepy clown-demon-thing is too much? What we get from It, an adaptation of the first part of Stephen King's novel of the same name, might be too much. It's not the presence of the evil, transforming spirit that's too much, though. It's how director Andy Muschietti portrays the malevolent, child-snatching entity that almost negates the effectiveness of the character.
Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), the demonic clown that creates fear in its victims and then feeds from that same fear, is never more terrifying than in its first appearance. Its face appears within a storm drain on a street in a quaint little town, as a little boy is looking for a paper boat that has disappeared into the sewer. The clown's tone is inviting, almost jovial, as it describes the fun circus that exists somewhere down there in the sewage system. It chuckles with a glee that turns maniacal, until the laughter fades to a low, raspy groan.
We know there's something preternaturally not right with a clown in a sewer, talking to a little boy about joining him at some damnable circus in the pit of waste beneath a quiet town. As the conversation continues, we really know there's something not right about the clown, even before its jaws open to reveal rows of jagged teeth.
All of this introduction works, even when Muschietti turns Pennywise into a creation of varying components of digital effects (Its eyes turn from bright blue to fiery orange, and yes, of course, there are those layers of jaws and rows of teeth). The choice is selective. The timing is right. The payoff is subtle enough that it doesn't turn into an overt geek show, but it's also bloody enough that we know the film means business—that it's not going to sugarcoat the horror of a child-nabbing-and-killing clown, simply because there are children at the heart of the story.
Most importantly, though, Skarsgård's performance is eerie enough without the addition of various digital and optical effects. It's in the voice, which is high-pitched and staccato until it drops without warning to a lower and more menacing register, and the dead-eyed stare, which goes askew as the creature shifts moods, and the drool that pours from the monster's lower lip. One would think that Muschietti would recognize the efficacy of Skarsgård's work here and leave more than well-enough alone.
Instead, the film proceeds in two distinct segments: There's the story of a group of kids in Derry, a fictional town in Maine that has murder and missing-persons rates far above the national average, as they join together to evade their respective traumas, and then there are the scenes of the demon tormenting and hunting its prey. The story of the kids is good enough that the film works as a twisted variation on a coming-of-age tale, in which the fears and traumas of real life are juxtaposed with the fantastical terrors that have plagued this town since its founding. The scenes with the demon, as a clown and in other representations, are less effective, if only because Muschietti doesn't seem to believe that we'll find the idea of the character frightening enough.
The main group of kids is led by Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), a stutterer whose little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) is Pennywise's target in the opening sequence. Also here are Richie (Finn Wolfhard), a kid with glasses who's the comic relief, and Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), a hypochondriac who really hates that the group's adventures lead them to the sewer. Of almost negligible importance is Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), the son of a rabbi who's preparing for his bar mitzvah.
Joining the self-proclaimed Losers Club at various points are Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the new kid in town, and Mike (Chosen Jacobs), a home-schooled kid from the unincorporated part of town who works on his grandfather's farm. Of keen interest to the boys is Beverly (Sophia Lillis), who is teased and taunted for false rumors about her promiscuity, only to return home to a father (played by Stephen Bogaert) who has sexually abused her for a while now.
The performances from the child actors are strong all around, and with an astute understanding of the author's work, the screenplay by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman have tapped into and adapted King's go-to themes—nostalgia (with King's 1950s-set tale transported to the 1980s), the supernatural serving as an outlet for and a warped version of real suffering, and, of course, fear. The main characters—namely Bill and Beverly, as well as, to a lesser degree, Ben—are relatable enough, in their desires for normalcy and their fears that no such situation is possible in this place, that the story could work as an observation of youth under common strains.
That's not this story, of course, and Muschietti veers wildly in his depiction of the demon and its methods. Some of it is chilling, such as a scene involving a slide projector that begins moving so quickly that the image of Pennywise becomes a movie, and some of it goes for over-the-top, in-your-face jump scares, such as how that moving image of the clown enters the real world. The film relies a bit too much on the latter techniques, with plenty of shots of Pennywise rushing at the screen or of his motions distorted with quick, jittery movements.
It's too much to be genuinely scary, especially after we've seen how less is much more with Skarsgård's performance and the not-as-assaultive imagery. Still, It has some frightening moments—certainly enough that the story's point as a trip through childhood fears, both real and imagined, isn't lost.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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