Genre: Supernatural Horror Running Time: 2 hrs. 15 min.
Release Date: September 8th, 2017 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Andy Muschietti Actors: Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgard, Nicholas Hamilton, Jake Sim, Jackson Robert Scott
n October of 1988, little Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott) saunters down into the incredibly creepy basement of his home to retrieve some golf wax to line the bottom of a paper boat, assembled by his bigger brother Billy (Jaeden Lieberher). As Georgie floats the craft down the riverlike stream of rainwater accruing along the roadside, it plummets into a sewer opening. Just as Georgie peers into the blackness of the hole, a ghoulish figure appears inside, calling himself Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard). Cutting off the brief conversation they start, Pennywise tempts the boy into outstretching his arm, which is promptly severed by the clown’s monstrous teeth.
By June of the following year, Georgie is part of a statistic: children seem to be disappearing all across the town of Derry, causing a strict 7:00 PM curfew, enforced by the police department. Despite Georgie’s bloody demise (which is officially considered a missing persons case), stuttering Billy is the target of some ruthless bullying at school. New kid Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), tall redhead Beverly (Sophia Lillis), homeschooled Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and the rabbi’s son Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) are also the objects of youthful ridicule; for some unexplained reason, these children attract negative attention from their peers. Talkative Richie (Finn Wolfhard) and hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) complete the collection of uncool kids, who begin their summer vacation with another bizarre link – nightmarish visions of Pennywise, who stalks them throughout the city.
After the initial shock of the disproportionately-shaped head of the diabolical clown, the first most interesting elements of “It” are the designs of the scares. Although lightless entryways and dim recesses are frequented, Pennywise tends to taunt his victims in broad daylight – the mark of a braver sort of horror film construction. Unfortunately, these unnerving moments are soon embellished by cheaper thrills, including routine jump scares that involve loud sounds, flashes of gore, and characters dashing across the screen or falling down while running. Later, Pennywise’s movements are augmented by CG, which makes them appear weirdly unnatural, but also too unreal to be effective.
As the gang investigates the possible whereabouts of Georgie, including a sewer outlet at the Barrens, they must continue to contend with waking nightmares, fueled by the added frustrations of disbelieving adults. Plus, the leader of the bullies, Henry (Nicholas Hamilton), regularly poses a threat greater than that of the killer clown; Henry is so sadistic, he’s unafraid to carve his name into Ben’s stomach with a knife (though he is, in turn, tyrannized by his own intemperate father). Another component of “It” that feels unfittingly severe is the sexuality – but not the budding young love between the adolescents. In particular, Beverly is the target of sexual abuse in her home, which comes across as too abominable, even in the midst of a child-eating alien predicament.
Countering the standard horror is an unusual sense of adventure (like an R-rated “The Goonies”), which plays nicely against the irrational courage of the kids, who wander into the local haunted house, split up, and somehow manage to thwart an encounter with the unnamed terror – without any real weapons. Inexplicably reasoning with the fine line between fantasy and reality, the youths handle the utterly petrifying torments quite well. At least they resort to cursing. As the finale approaches, it becomes apparent that “It” doesn’t intend on providing any answers to Pennywise’s motives, his origins, or even his capabilities and limitations. Why does he take the form of a clown? Why does he eat children? Why does he prey on fears? And what’s with the floating? Perhaps the greatest takeaway is that the filmmakers found a cast of very convincing, skillful child actors (a rarity in general, but even rarer in the horror genre), who exhibit a spectacular screen chemistry, even as they interact in a story that makes no sense.
– Mike Massie