By: Brett Slaughenhaupt – Movie Columnist
To say that we needed a movie about a scary clown that causes terror upon everyone it encounters would be a bit of an overstatement. However, It did shake up the movie-going experience leading to a massive, record-breaking opening weekend. Strong marketing that contrasted the dull end to a summer of underperforming movies gave way to a $123 million opener. “It” is a bonafide success and good to boot, even if it isn’t very scary.
The filmmakers involved with “It” had the supreme task of adapting Stephen King’s epic 1,138-word novel to the screen. Directed by Andy Muschietti (“Mama”) and written by Chase Palmer, Gary Dauberman, and Cary Fukunaga (who was originally going to direct), we get a film that is one part coming-of-age story, one part horror flick and one part homage to ‘80s films. These three parts don’t always come together in the best interest of the film, but individually they offer strengths. When they finally mesh, it gives way to an intriguing and uncomfortable film. One particular bloody bathroom scene nicely recalls “A Nightmare on Elm Street” while also acting as a metaphor for the changes the teenage character is experiencing through puberty.
While the novel spans many decades, the film opts for a more straightforward story. Our story is set in 1989, centered on the Losers Club’s first interaction with a shapeshifting demon whose main form is Pennywise, the dancing clown. Our first introduction to Pennywise is in the infamous storm drain after a young boy named Georgie loses track of his paper boat. Bill Skarsgård plays Pennywise with a mix of childish comedy and manic creepiness that is made all the more astonishing by amazing makeup. The tension built up throughout this interaction is soon deflated by cheesy graphics that offer a look into what the films biggest flaw will be: trying to show us too much.
We soon learn that Georgie is not the only child in Derry, Maine who has gone missing, assumedly by Pennywise. It is up to a group of seven misfit friends – one being Georgie’s older brother, Bill – to challenge this demon that haunts their town every 27 years. Each kid has their own individual run-ins with this demon, taking the shape of their biggest fears. This segment of scares plays almost entirely one after the other, so we quickly become desensitized to the inevitable jump scare. Individually though, these scenes could be fairly effective with more set up and flow between each kid. Not to mention the fact that a tilted frame can only induce so much “horror” after the millionth usage in ten minutes of screen time, not to mention the entire 2 hours and 15 minutes.
The Losers Club is really where “It” rests its shoulders on the most. The chemistry between each kid reflects ’80s classics like “E.T.,” “The Goonies,” and King’s own “Stand By Me” and the script doles out enough personality for each of the seven so we truly care about what they are going through. Their trials blend the supernatural horrors with the day-to-day drama of both the demonic Pennywise, as well as the more realistic bullies and family problems. Sophia Lillis is a standout as Beverly, the sole girl of the group, as she exhibits raw emotions in the face of terror at home and outside of it. Skarsgård’s portrayal as Pennywise is another notable feature, perfectly off-putting and never tired, regardless of how many times we encounter him in the same situation.
“It” never maintains a steady level of dread due to some sloppy creative elements, but overall the film is a successful piece of work. We are given a full story that leaves just enough of an open door to keep us wondering where they can take us next. That’s what makes the “Chapter One” end credits title all the more exciting.
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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures