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IT – Movie Review

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IT – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Warner Brothers Pictures

In adapting Stephen King’s massive horror novel IT, director Andy Muschietti taps into those childhood fears that kept us up at night at a young age. That’s a key to the film’s success as we follow the young residents of Derry, Maine in trying to conquer what frightens them the most. Even if one doesn’t find clowns creepy, there are multiple tricks in this film’s bag. Thankfully, those don’t involve jump scares as Muschietti is more interested in getting us to root for the characters and want them to survive this ordeal. While one could argue the runtime is a tad on the lengthy side, IT does manage to give the proper time to these bicycle-riding youngsters.

Despite transferring IT’s time frame from the 1950s of King’s book to the 1980s, this is not done to inject some cheap nostalgia. Even with references to Molly Ringwald and New Kids on the Block, the film never pushes the decade down your throat. These are children that would exist and experience these fears in any era. Muschietti has clearly worked hard to give Derry and its inhabitants a timeless feel. Most importantly, each child is developed with the proper care to be distinctive. The Losers Club has their flaws, but there is still a want for them to get out of the circumstances they find themselves in. Beverly proves to be the most sympathetic figure, dealing with an abusive father one instantly hates for obvious reasons.

Pennywise the Dancing Clown is a frequent presence, but Muschietti doesn’t overdo him. He pops up when necessary, growing more prevalent and powerful as the film plays on. He’s already creepy in appearance, but Bill Skarsgard adds a further unsettling quality to that figure in the sewers. Less successful are the local bullies, who veer closer to being psychopaths than actual schoolyard taunters. Stephen King stories aren’t exactly known for their subtle depictions of bullies, but Bowers and his cronies are a little over-the-top. Even with their threats, Muschietti manages to give many of the other town residents an unnerving exterior that makes the Loser Club’s need for escape all the more necessary.

Adding to the ambience of IT is Benjamin Wallfisch’s score, which teeters between melancholy and frightening. His music is a fitting combination with Muschietti’s imagery and the main theme is sure to rattle in one’s brain. The child actors deserve extra attention for their work, too. We are in a current golden age of child thespians with the attempt more to create realism than acting with “aw-shucks” dimples. We sense the fear in their eyes and the horrible things they have witnessed. Jaeden Lieberher has the tricky task of showing Bill’s obsession of catching Pennywise, mourning for his brother and controlling a powerful stutter. Sophia Lillis is a young star in the making as the lone girl of the group and Finn Wolfhard doesn’t merely repeat the same beats from his role on Stranger Things.

It is tricky not to think of the popular Netflix series when watching IT. That’s hardly the fault of the filmmakers, but the film does prove many of the flaws of that show. IT gives the proper time to build suspense and uncertainty through its runtime. While the film is certainly long, it doesn’t feel too stretched out. Muschietti and the three credited screenwriters (including original director Cary Fukunaga) only adapt half of Stephen King’s massive thousand page novel, but IT still feels like a complete story. There is surprisingly little sequel baiting, though one certainly leaves the movie anticipating how the Loser Club’s adult lives will be depicted. By avoiding easy horror film tactics and tapping into our subconscious, this film will linger in the memory and red balloons will certainly not be looked at the same way again.

Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison