Movie review: Stephen King’s IT balloons with big-screen scares

Coulrophobes beware! The movie version of Stephen King’s supernatural clown thriller "IT" is stylish, well-acted and super scary. Courtesy New Line Cinema Coulrophobes beware! The movie version of Stephen King’s supernatural clown thriller “IT” is stylish, well-acted and super scary. Courtesy New Line Cinema

The film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel IT, long considered unfilmable, has finally reached the big screen, bringing new life and a modern sensibility to a story that is simultaneously nostalgic and damning of selective memory. The decades are swapped—our heroes are growing up in the late 1980s instead of King’s 1950s—but the coulrophobia has not dulled a bit in the update. IT does frontload most of its big scares and falls into a predictable rhythm, but with an impossibly talented cast, amazing visuals, and the sheer herculean effort to make the damn thing, IT will win most audiences over.

The story follows a group of teens growing up in the fictional town of Derry, Maine. Some are lifelong friends, some are newcomers, but all share the experience of being bullied, outcast or otherwise rejected and put down by their peers and family. Meanwhile, a terrible presence in the form of a demonic clown has been making itself known, first by horrifically devouring Georgie, the younger brother of the group’s leader, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher). A frightening amount of children have recently been killed or gone missing, when one of the Losers discovers a pattern in the town’s history where every few decades, a massive wave of disappearances and deaths hits the young population of Derry. They realize they are in the middle of one such wave, and as they work to combat Pennywise the Dancing Clown, they must also unite to confront their own deepest fears.

R, 135 minutes
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 & IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema

Every King story lives or dies by the quality of its characters; after all, we would neither care nor believe a story about a supernatural child-eating clown who lives in the sewer if we were not somehow invested in the survival of those affected. This is where the source material shines, as well as the 1990 miniseries, and in this regard, the 2017 iteration is a complete triumph. The cast is truly remarkable, believably capturing how 13-year-olds might react to such a situation, when they are still in the middle of becoming the people they will be for the rest of their lives—they are funny, endearing, sympathetic, and capture the full spectrum of small-town adolescence in doing so. Not a single performance within the Losers Club is wasted, particularly by Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Jack Dylan Grazer and “Stranger Things”’ Finn Wolfhard. Bill Skarsgård may be capturing headlines with his take on Pennywise—and it is a fresh one, free from the shadow of Tim Curry’s legendary turn—but we are either in a golden age of child actors or this is the cream of the crop.

Though both the novel and miniseries followed the protagonists both as teenagers and as adults, director Andy Muschietti (Mama) makes the decision to focus solely on the childhood years, with the second half of the story left to a potential sequel. This effectively focuses what has always been a sprawling narrative of interdimensional beings and nigh-Lovecraftian lore, that of best friends learning to trust themselves and one another while questioning the world as it has been presented to them. The flipside of this is that it leaves a frustrating amount of plot holes, such as what the non-“It” creatures are that we see peppered throughout. Supernatural horror films are often best left unexplained, but they ought never be unmotivated. The effect is not mystery, but preemptively dulling what should have been the massive scares that come later.

The special effects are jarring and there are legitimate moments of terror—reminiscent of Muschietti’s too-close-for-comfort stylings that we saw in Mama—but they are not sustained enough for it to be the masterpiece it wants to be. The film cannot shake echoes of the smash hit “Stranger Things,” but as King’s story provided some of the inspiration, it has every right to cover similar ground. IT is not a game-changer, but the mere fact that it exists, and is as good as it is, deserves recognition.

Playing this week

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056

Akira, Dunkirk, Home Again, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Ingrid Goes West, Logan Lucky, Selma 

Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213

 All Saints, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Despicable Me 3, Dunkirk, The Emoji Movie, Girls Trip, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Home Again, Leap!, Logan Lucky, Marvel’s Inhumans, The Nut Job: Nutty by Nature, Spider-man: Homecoming, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, Wind River 

Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000

Apollo 13, The Big Sick, Dunkirk, The Glass Castle, Home Again, Logan Lucky, The Midwife, Terms of Endearment, The Trip to Spain, Tulip Fever, Wind River

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