It ranks among the better Stephen King adaptations… no other small praise indeed. This is like an R-rated Goonies. With an evil clown in it…
The highest-grossing horror movie of all time, It is the story of a bunch of teenagers in small-town America coming face to face with an ancient evil… who looks like a clown. Well, it can look like other things too, but mostly it’s a clown. Why did it stick with that form? I don’t know…. Maybe coulrophobia is even more common than we think !!
Stephen King’s “It” has always been a tough nut to crack. Though the mammoth novel has been reduced to a few indelible images and quotes over the decades — a killer clown, a balloon, “you’ll float too” — King’s story of seven youngsters who come of age while confronting a shape-shifting demonic presence in small-town Maine, then come home as adults to deal with its return, is quite a lot of things. It’s a messy, druggy attempt to distill decades of horror tropes into a chaotic fever dream.
Even more effective than the horror elements of Argentine director Andy Muschietti’s adaptation is the unexpected humor he reveals in the story—and, ultimately, the humanity. Finding that combination of tones is such a tricky balance to pull off: the brief lightening of a tense moment with a quick quip, or an earnest monologue in the face of extreme danger. But “It” makes that work nearly every time, thanks to its perfectly calibrated performances from a well-chosen cast.
“It”, aka Pennywise the clown, is effectively and unpredictably scary, because he’s able to turn up at any time in any form. It seems almost like a cheat… a free-for-all excuse for the film to be scary whenever and however it fancies, without the need to follow any monster rules. At the same time, that makes the film less predictable, and therefore more effective, at the headline goal of a horror movie, i.e. scaring you.
Also, if we’re parsing this as a coming-of-age tale more than a monster movie, it allows It’s various forms to further develop the characters: each identity it assumes is custom-made to terrify the individual being targeted, and the only rule is you defeat It by overcoming your fear, an act which is explicitly tied to growing up.
The filmmakers honor both the pastoral and the infernal dimensions of Mr. King’s distinctive literary vision. Derry, Maine.. with its redbrick storefronts and its quirks and kinks, seems like a genuinely nice place to live in spite of the fact that its citizens, children in particular, turn up missing or maimed at an alarming rate.
The supernatural nastiness embodied by Pennywise is abetted and to some extent camouflaged by the ordinary human awfulness that also afflicts Derry. In addition to menacing clowns, phantasmatic lepers and spooky paintings come to life, the town is home to an ugly assortment of bullies (the worst one played by Nicholas Hamilton), gossips and abusive parents.
Just as Tim Curry’s larger-than-life performance anchored the 1990 version, so Bill Skarsgård proves the centrepiece of the 2017 vintage. Like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, Pennywise is generally used carefully and sparingly, and is all the more powerful for it.
What Bill Skarsgard does with the role works well precisely because he doesn’t appear to be laboring so hard to frighten us. Despite his minimal screen time shared with prosthetic artists and CGI compositors, Skarsgård leaves a hell of an impression. His performance is full of strange nuance and wit, with subtle touches, making this interpretation more fascinatingly entertaining than truly disturbing.
Following the novel’s example, casting director Rich Delia goes above the call of duty assembling a group of youngsters who are every bit as funny, irritating and empathetic as the script requires. Credit must go to the young cast, among whom there is no single weak link; it’s as authentic a portrayal of children staring down the barrel of adolescence as you’re ever likely to see.
But Wolfhard all but steals the show as the gang’s cheerful antagonist Richie. Best known for his turn last year in “Stranger Things” , the 14-year-old unleashes torrents of profanity and stupid-clever teenage quips with infectious panache.
But as spine-tingling as a number of individual scenes are, the film struggles to find a proper rhythm. Scene-to-scene transitions are static and disjointed, settling into a cycle of “…and then this happened” without deepening the overall dread or steadily uncovering pieces of a central mystery.
Curiously, “It” grows less intense as it goes, handicapped by an inability to take in the scope of Derry as a town defined by its buried traumas and secrets, let alone really plumbing the primal depths of fear that It itself represents.
That’s not to say horror junkies won’t get their fix: littered with beautiful imagery, absorbing soundscapes, and adorable pre-teens facing unspeakable terror, “It” is grade-A Stephen King crack.
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