ReelBob: ‘It’ ★★★
By Bob Bloom
It’s no joke that coulrophobia — a fear of clowns — is an actual medical condition.
So, as a public-health service to those filmgoers who suffer from this disorder, I strongly advise you to skip “It.”
This second rendition of the sprawling, 1,100-plus-page Stephen King novel — the first was a 1990 TV miniseries — is a chilling feature that has a few scary moments, but also has warmth and heart — a strange combination for what is purported to be a horror film.
The movie has been updated from the late 1950s to 1989 and focuses on seven 13-year-old kids, the self-named “Losers’ Club,” who band together to solve the disappearance of several children in their hometown of Derry, Maine.
As those familiar with King’s work know, the culprit is a malevolent entity, Pennywise, a clown who lives in the sewers beneath Derry and returns every 27 years to “feed” on the town’s children.
One of Pennywise’s victims is the younger brother of Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), who is inconsolable over the loss of his sibling.
Together with his friends, Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Beverly (Sophie Lillis), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Stan (Wyatt Oleff), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Mike (Chosen Jacobs), they set out to discover what happened to the missing children and who — or what — is responsible.
“It” succeeds because the kids are relatable and director Andy Muschietti, working from a script by Chase Palmer, Cary Joji Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman, spends as much time in letting us get to know the kids as he does on the terrifying events that propel them to band together and take action.
The kids not only must unravel the mystery, but also deal with bullies and — in some cases — creepy parents, who nearly weird you out as much as Pennywise.
Ah, Pennywise! What a delightful monster. As portrayed by Bill Skarsgard, he is the personification of evil — luring children to their doom with a smile, laugh or promises of sweets or whatever he fathoms they fancy.
Pennywise also revels in being able to manipulate his young adversaries by uncovering their fears and turning them against his hunters.
The movie also works because Muschietti and his writing team have basically halved King’s novel. The book spans 27 years with the adult versions of the kids returning to Derry to rid the town of Pennywise once and for all.
“It,” revealed as “Chapter One” in the end credits, keeps its focus on the children, reserving the adults’ final battle for a proposed sequel.
“It” cannot escape some of the genre’s clichés, most noticeably an overuse of jump cuts in which Pennywise suddenly bursts into a scene to scare one of the children.
Not only does this device quickly grow stale, but they are predictable.
However, the relationships between the kids, despite their being characterized by individual traits — the stutterer, the hypochondriac, the heavy-set kid, the scarred black kid, the girl with the bad reputation, etc., etc. — make you respond to them.
Their plight has you rooting for them to destroy the clown-thing terrorizing their lives.
“It” is not a great movie, but it is a solid vehicle, with most of the credit for that going to a young cast that allows you to overlook most of the movie’s shortcomings.
The film may not be a three-ring circus of nightmares, but it does provide enough to make you toss and turn a bit.
I am a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. My reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). I also review Blu-rays and DVDs. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Links to my reviews can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.
3 stars out of 4
(R), graphic violence, language, disturbing and scary and bloody images