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It Movie Review

It (2017) movie poster It

Theatrical Release: September 8, 2017 / Running Time: 135 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Andrés Muschietti / Writers: Stephen King (novel); Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman

Cast: Jaeden Lieberher (Bill Denbrough), Jeremy Ray Taylor (Ben Hanscom), Sophia Lillis (Beverly Marsh), Finn Wolfhard (Richie Tozier), Chosen Jacobs (Mike Hanlon), Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie Kaspbrak), Wyatt Oleff (Stanley Uris), Bill Skarsgård (Pennywise), Nicholas Hamilton (Henry Bowers), Jake Sim (Belch Huggins), Logan Thompson (Victor Criss), Owen Teague (Patrick Hockstetter), Jackson Robert Scott (Georgie Denbrough), Stephen Bogaert (Mr. Marsh), Stuart Hughes (Officer Bowers), Geoffrey Pounsett (Zach Denbrough), Pip Dwyer (Sharon Denbrough), Molly Jane Atkinson (Sonia Kaspbrak), Steven Williams (Leroy Hanlon), Elizabeth Saunders (Mrs. Starret), Megan Charpentier (Gretta), Joe Bostick (Mr. Keene), Ari Cohen (Rabbi Uris), Anthony Ulc (Joe the Butcher)

 

Expect there to be more confusion than usual over the next few weeks as people talk about It. "Have you seen It?" "Seen what?" "Do you want to see It?" "Do I wanna see what?" And so on.
People will be certainly talking about It, though, as one of the most anticipated horror movies to hit theaters in a very long time.

It gives the feature film treatment to the 1986 Stephen King novel of the same name, which in the fall of 1990 became a two-part, four-hour ABC miniseries. Network television doesn't really give us original movies or such short miniseries anymore, but It's legend has grown, one of those landmark productions that scared a lot of people at some point in time. I haven't seen that It, nor have I read the book on which it's based, but even I knew that this new adaptation was the film that would kick off scary movie season, a commercially significant stretch that corresponds but doesn't overlap with the start of Hollywood's long award season.

Directed by Andrés Muschietti (Mama), It opens in October of 1988. We're introduced to Bill Denbrough (Midnight Special's Jaeden Lieberher), who is sick and bedridden but still game to help construct a tiny paper boat his younger brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) can sail along the curb outside on this rainy afternoon. Alas, the fast-moving vessel slips into the sewer into the hands of one Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), a sadistic clown whose unsettling chummy banter eventually gives way to genuine menace.

If "It" achieves what it set out to do, then Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård) will give many viewers nightmares.

The rest of the film takes place in the summer of 1989 and that is not an incidental setting. Muschietti and the three credited screenwriters (most notable among them, "True Detective" creator Cary Fukunaga) embrace all that is the 1980s childhood that they all knew. The fashions, the music, the playful banter that is far from what we would today consider politically correct. Healed but still hurting from his brother's disappearance and apparent death, Bill and his pariah friends hatch a plan to explore the sewers to look for clues. By the end of the school year, another girl has already gone missing and been presumed dead.

Bill and his fellow barely teenaged misfits, including dirty-mouthed and dirty-minded Richie (Finn Wolfhard, "Stranger Things"), bullied home schooled farmboy Mike (Chosen Jacobs), hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and bar mitzvah-bound Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) take to the sewers and find some clues. A new addition to their ranks, rotund bibliophile and closet New Kids on the Block fan Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) shares with the gang some information about Derry, their shared Maine hometown which has a troubling history of inexplicable phenomenon.

In time, these six boys and lock-chopping abused redhead Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) encounter some bizarre things themselves, from visions of Georgie to a headless library runner to a bathroom sink that supplies an experience akin to the prom from Carrie. These jarring episodes all appear to be the work of Pennywise, that lunatic of a dancing clown who taunts and teases these adolescent pals and, by extension, the viewer.

"It" effortlessly defines and distinguishes a group of seven youths as its protagonists.

It is a rarity among horror cinema: a film with some story and substance to go along with its scares. Having a widely-read King novel as its source makes it tough to declare it original,
but in a genre full of remakes, sequels, and reboots, this two-lettered title stands out for springing from literature and from the author behind such classics as The Shining and Misery.

It feels like a throwback and not just to the author's works like Pet Sematary and his atypical coming-of-age drama Stand by Me but '80s movies like The Goonies that had a sense of pure adolescent adventure and mystery seemingly unsullied by focus group findings and studio notes. The Goonies, of course, was a production of Steven Spielberg at the height of his most enchantment-filled decade. This It probably is still shaped by test screenings and the like, but it doesn't feel that way. It feels like instead New Line Cinema and parent company Warner Bros. Pictures trusted Muschietti and the scribes to do what they felt was necessary to make King's text palatable and chilling yet also commercially potent at a time when moviegoing is on the wane.

Though nothing in Mama or the Argentine director's limited other resume suggested he earned that kind of trust, Muschietti has clearly succeeded at meeting those goals here. It is what you want a horror film to be: unnerving, unpredictable, entertaining, and not completely stupid. At 2 hours and 15 minutes, the film runs longer than it needs to. And it could probably do a better job of distinguishing what's real from what's not (although admittedly that is kind of an essential motif here). Nonetheless, the movie surprises by serving up a large number of well-written, easily distinguished characters and appealing period authenticity (marred perhaps only by the easily missed fact that only Warner Bros. movies exist in this film's 1988-89), while not shying away from some really dark, disturbing material and fully committing to a late-'80s adolescence, from homophobic slurs to mulleted hostility.

With summer releases from Lieberher (The Book of Henry) and King (The Dark Tower) ranking among the worst cinema that 2017 has yet to offer, both are gladly redeemed here in a fall film that should inspire some of the same fervor that made Netflix's "Stranger Things" such a fan favorite. Wolfhard, of that show, steals scenes here with his juvenile vulgarity. Also impressing is Lillis, who is humorously likened to Molly Ringwald, but more resembles a teenaged Amy Adams with her magnetic, sympathy-earning dramatics. Skarsgård, the son of Stellan and younger brother of Alexander, has the most iconic role of the film, but honestly the character's impact seems more the result of make-up, effects, and editing than the qualities that the Swedish actor imbues in him.

Rotund reader Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is lured into the library's archives by a rolling egg.

It claims the first post-Labor Day weekend of the year with what is expected to be a powerhouse opening in the neighborhood of $60 million or more. A year earlier, Warner Bros. opened Sully to healthy returns in the #1 spot. It won't have that film's legs, but it does have that word-of-mouth event quality to it which should boost it well over the $100 million domestic mark that Warner and New Line's previous horror release, Annabelle: Creation, is impressively inching towards. Sully didn't end up having much of an awards season presence and you can debate whether that reflects the film or its timing. But It's arrival seems perfectly timed during the slowest period the box office has seen in ages. There is a chance it is still drawing interest by the time Halloween comes and the fact that it was never going to get any awards nominations outside the Saturn genre honors anyway. Already anticipating success, Warner explicitly promises a sequel in the final shot before closing credits, declaring this "Chapter One."

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: The Dark TowerWind RiverThe Trip to SpainLogan LuckyDunkirk
Stephen King: Pet SemataryCujoMiseryCell
Jaeden Lieberher: Midnight SpecialSt. VincentThe Book of Henry
Directed by Andrés Muschietti: Mama | Written by Gary Dauberman: Annabelle
The GooniesSomething Wicked This Way ComesGet OutThe ConjuringHalloweentownPoltergeist

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Reviewed September 6, 2017.



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