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Movie Review: It

Another Stephen King creepfest—one of the good ones.

This latest Stephen King adaptation is a pretty scary movie for real. Too bad that it sticks around so long (two hours and 15 minutes) that the shocks in its second half are inevitably diluted. But let us not gripe (too much): this is a horror movie that grabs you right out of the gate. By the throat.

You may recall that Pennywise, the demon clown of King's doorstop novel, was previously played, in a 1990 TV version, by Tim Curry. But Curry's prancing, shticky performance seems ridiculous in retrospect. The role now belongs entirely to Bill Skarsgård, whose horrid smirk and sudden eruptions of malevolence (and R-rated violence) in this film are fearsome to behold. Skarsgård (son of Stellan, brother of Alexander) brings this evil clown to full, hell-dwelling life. Although we ultimately see too much of him, we might be happy to see more after a restorative interval. (And we'll get that chance: this movie focuses only on the first half of King's sprawling book; part two is already being concocted.)

But Pennywise isn't the only monster running loose in this picture, which is a little more than just another fright flick. The story, set in the fictitious town of Derry, Maine, concerns a group of young, self-dubbed Losers who are deep in the tribulations of adolescence. Along with yearnings for romance and sex, they're also tormented by school bullies and by their own embarrassing personal shortcomings (one of them is overweight, another's a coward, another a stutterer, and so forth). Then Pennywise suddenly shows up, edging into a shaft of light down in the otherwise pitch darkness of a storm drain and—in one of the movie's most jolting scenes—chatting up a little boy who's peering in from the street. That's the last we see of that kid (for a while, anyway), and soon other children start to go missing, too. The Losers discover that identical spates of kid-vanishing have been a longtime feature of life in Derry, coming along every 27 years. None of the town's grownups seem inclined to do anything about this, so it's left up to these kids to deal.

Pennywise creates as much havoc around town as you'd hope, his depredations heralded by the appearance of a spooky red balloon. There he is leaping out of a casket in an old dark house! Here he comes bursting out of the screen during a basement slide show! He also has other forms of manifestation, none of them quite as jazzy as his creepy self: there's a headless boy, an icky leper—standard boo stuff. But one of the movie's big scenes has a more-imaginative resonance. It involves the only female Loser, a girl named Beverly (possible breakout star Sophia Lillis), whom we see coming home clutching what is apparently her first box of tampons, sidestepping her leering pervert dad (Stephen Bogaert), and slipping into the bathroom – where a geyser of blood suddenly erupts out of the sink. (It's a scene that unblushingly recalls the original Carrie, much in the way that other aspects of the movie bring to mind Don't Look Now, Alien, and John Carpenter's The Thing.)

The key actors here, all hovering around the age of 15, are uniformly good, and director Andy Muschietti, whose last film was the shivery Mama, handles them with rare assurance. The sweet, sunshiny Lillis is especially adroit in portraying a girl who's just working up the determination to escape her hellacious home life. It's a fresh and charming performance, and Lillis is clearly here to stay. Similarly, the movie itself, unlike so many of the dud films on offer this year, probably won't be disappearing from the multiplex anytime soon. It could become a small classic.

Photo Credit: New Line Cinema

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  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    "the only female Loser, a girl named Beverly (possible breakout star Sophia Lillis)"

    At the risk of being banned by Reason... SHOW US YOUR- {banhammered}

  • mjs_28s||

    what is your question supposed to mean or what are you trying to ask?

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    I say, good chap, have you never had the privilege of hearing expressed the vulgar phrase "show us your tits?" It is quite the common expression amongst the plebeian classes, I'm told. It was only in an attempt to imitate the manners and predilections of said lower orders that I adopted their seeming for a moment, in the hopes of achieving a brief simulacrum of comedic verve. I see my plans have not unfolded as I had hoped, and for this I offer my deepest condolences.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    I finally finsished reading the novel (1200+ pages) last week. I know to of the actors: the clown played a creepy young man in Hemlock Grove and one of the kids played in the excellent Stranger Things. I am so going to see this film.

  • Sports Reporter Charles Manson||

    "But Curry's prancing, shticky performance seems ridiculous in retrospect."

    Really? It seemed scary enough to me.

  • Red Rocks Baiting n Inciting||

    His performance was ground-breaking in terms of what was allowed on network television at the time. It only seems campy now in comparison to how graphic everything has become, especially considering that streaming and cable shows push the envelope to a far greater extent.

  • KL||

    Seems diminished in the wake of this movie, though. To me, anyway...

  • CooterBrown||

    Settle down Loder.

  • spark76||

    "this movie focuses only on the first half of King's sprawling book"

    umm, have you ever read the book? this movie may be half of the book, roughly, but its not the first half, or the second half.

    the two "halves" of the book IT unfurl simultaneously. within that structure lies the books brilliance, and the reason why there will never be a truly worthy movie adaption- it would either be ungodly long, or, if divided into multiple parts, the screenwriters would have to be disciplined enough to not take the easy way out and cut it in half in the manner in which it has been twice now.

    maybe lord of the rings style, end on a cliffhanger knowing the next part is coming out next year would work, but really, told the way this movie does turns into just some pedestrian horror story about a killer clown and the novel is SO much more than that.

  • Red Rocks Baiting n Inciting||

    This is something that would really work better as a one-shot miniseries of about 8-10 episodes just to capture the full extent of the story, which when you get right down to it was a drug/alcohol-fueled projection of all of King's Boomer neuroses.

  • Zeb||

    So, they're doing the kid part now and the adult part later?

    I think a good movie could be made with similar narrative structure to the book, but it would have to be very long.

  • KL||

    Dummy stands corrected...

  • Trollificus||

    Yeah, but...these production decisions (one-part, two-parts, mini-series, etc) are NOT made by screenwriters, disciplined, competent or inspired, but are dictated by people for whom $$$s override any consideration of artistic integrity or even "quality product".

  • spark76||

    maybe, maybe not. i just think whoever is doing it hasnt fully understood the material and is just seeing the "obvious" way to divide or shrink it, and in so doing is destroying the work.

    or maybe its just me, people loved the mini series, people seem to love this one. i dont. clowns dont scare me. the actual subject matter of the book, does.

    i sort of hope they never make the second part. leave it as a standalone movie about kids terrorized by a clown. as far as movies like that go its probably pretty decent.

  • ||

    But Curry's prancing, shticky performance seems ridiculous in retrospect.

    This is disheartening to read. I don't fear clowns, I'm vexed by them. Curry's prancing around was relatably maddening. The fact that this element is revamped makes it very much seem like the new version will be Stranger Things except the monster wears a clown suit and/or exceedingly disconnected from any other part of the story.

  • tkc||

    Skarsgård (son of Stellan, brother of Alexander)... and Gustav. Does no one watch Vikings anymore?

  • The Last American Hero||

    Just people to cheap to shell out for GOT, or so I'm told.

  • RockLibertyWarrior||

    Watched it and I am a huge skeptic of movies these days. I rarely go to the theater, however I got to say, this wasn't bad. A good sign is I didn't look down at my watch once during its two hour plus run, and that is saying alot for me, it was very entertaining. Bill really has a young Tim Carrey look to him, I loved the original mini series and as I have said this movie was good, not great, worth a night out if you got nothing else to do. Another thing, they updated it a bit, whereas the book and original miniseries took place in the late 1950's and the grown up segments in the late 1980's, this movie has the kids in the late 1980's and I am assuming the second part is going to take place in our present. This will evoke nostalgia in 80's kids, it did in me.

  • The Metonymy||

    The 80s nostalgia is about the only thing redeeming thing in that relentless assault upon my list of worst movies ever made.

    This movie was jump-scare gag bullshit ad infinitum. If you've ever seen oh, every horror movie that went straight to video, nothing about this cinematic turd will startle you.

    Absolutely none of the Lovecraftian homages King put in the original novel made it into this movie. It's as if about 95% of the way into filming this movie, someone found out the made-for-TV IT movie was based on a book someone wrote, and they said, "fuck it, why read it now?"

  • Radioactive||

    another shitty remake, though it should be clear that the source material was pretty much a crap fest before anyone else got their paws on it...

  • The Metonymy||

    There are some accurate similarities between the book and the new movie. For example, between the two, some of the characters have the same names. Stephen King is earning royalties from both. The have the same title.

    The similarities dissipate after that.

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