Movie review: It

One of the better adaptations of a Stephen King novel is truly terrifying

Directed by Andy Muschietti
With Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton, Jackson Robert Scott

Stephen King films have a hard time making it to the screen. Not that there aren't a lot of them, but most are rather disappointing. The new adaptation of It is an exception. It ranks in the top tier of both Stephen King adaptations and modern horror, both of which have been struggling.

The basic premise, which people should know from the advertisements and a previous miniseries version with Tim Curry, involves a scary clown. This time the clown It, also known as Pennywise, is played by Bill Skarsgård under heavy makeup. He is scary from the start, and very little he does has any humor to it.

The setting is a town called Derry, Maine, in 1989. The town is quite a bit off. None of the adults seem at all normal. Perhaps it is because they are seen from the point of view of a group of teenagers, or perhaps they all are a bit off.

The town, too, is not quite right. The streets are oddly empty in the day, as if it was abandoned to a group of seven kids called the Losers, and a rival group that exists only to bully them.

Every element of the basic set up is unsettling. The audience has no safe space to retreat to, and has no expectation that one will be created.

The film works by escalating fear through a series of increasingly bizarre scenes, and surprise is one of its best qualities. That makes the plot hard to discuss, though.

Many of King's themes can found woven through It. People who saw the recent and rather disappoining The Dark Tower will spot the focus on kids, abandoned houses and frightening visions.

People who have followed the King's books and films based on them will spot references to Carrie, Sometimes They Come Back and Stand By Me, among others. Coming of age is a key theme behind the film's horror, and many of King's stories.

One drawback is that most of the characters are one dimensional — the fat kid, the kid with glasses, the kid who stammers and so on.

But together, the Loser group is a fairly interesting mix, save for the one kid who always says inappropriately crude things. A little less of him would have helped the group a lot. The bullies are even more one-note in their depictions.

Standing out in the cast is Jaeden Lieberher as the leader of the Losers, and Sophia Lillis as the only female member. They project some emotions and go through strong arcs of development. Jeremy Ray Taylor creates a fat kid with dignity, which is a rarity. He does get bullied, but he has his hobbies and makes himself useful. Finn Wolfhard as the endlessly foul-mouthed kid doesn't give a bad performance, but the character is misconcieved and there is no way around that.

The film, adapted from a book that was over 1,100 pages, leaves a lot unanswered but manages to fit in a lot as well.

Director Andy Muschietti previously made the 2013 horror film Mama, a hit that took in 10 times its production costs. It was a strange blend of horror and surrealism.

Muschietti stresses the horror aspects in It, but not just the random door-slamming and other stock tricks that have become routine. He builds the situations out of his characters. There is also a fair amount of CGI, but it doesn't take over the film in the end in place of a narrative.

It ranks certainly in the top 10 of adaptations of Stephen King. The film It is not as good as The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption or Stand By Me. But it can fit in somewhere bwtween Dead Zone, Misery, Dolores Clairborne, The Running Man and the 1976 version of Carrie.

Stay through the credits for one final sound effect, and an important hint.

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