Wednesday, October 4, 2017

It (2017) ***1/2

The long awaited adaptation of the 1986 Stephen King novel It proved a Box Office juggernaut for a September release. As a movie, the rebooted It stands heads and shoulders above the workmanlike TV movie from 1990. The script and look of the film resemble the Netflix TV series Stranger Things, with its stellar cast of child actors. It suggests the beginnings of an epic story despite the occasional hiccup and tendency to bludgeon the viewer with jump scares (after awhile the shock value wears off). The acting and direction are exceptional, staying true to the spirit of Stephen King's original vision.

Set in the fictional town of Derry, a typical medium sized American city in Maine (based on King's long time hometown of Bangor). The novel and film begin with a terrifying scene of a little boy meeting a clown who lives inside the city's sewer system. More children disappear, yet no one in the town seems concerned. 

A group of kids who call themselves the "Losers Club" begin to investigate the strange disappearances, leading to even larger questions about the town's troubled history no one ever talks about.

All the child actors did a fantastic job as the underdogs who must fight off bullies to survive. Meanwhile, their parents are distant and possibly corrupted by the evil that resides in Derry.  Beverly, the lone girl in the club, must deal with slut shaming and a super creepy Dad, Sophia Lillis gives the standout performance that's worthy of Oscar consideration.  

Bill Skarsgard was scary enough as the clown Pennywise, frightening in his voice and bizarre facial mannerisms. My only criticism would be we get too much of Pennywise, especially in the strained climax.

At his best Stephen King is definitey not all about scares and gross outs, but story and character. In fact I would argue that's the secret of his success, he creates memorable characters.  Who can forget Carrie, Johnny Smith from The Dead Zone, or Andy and Red in The Shawshank Redemption? That's the great strength of It, one of the gems in his prolific career.

My hopes were high for It when Cary Fukunaga was scheduled to direct, but in 2015 he dropped out over creative differences and was replaced Andy Muschietti. Apparently Fukunaga wanted to make a more unconventional horror film and King was reportedly enthusiastic about the script.  While Muschietti made a more conventional horror film, he obviously worked well with the cast. I'm not sure if this version of It will become a classic, but at the very least a respectable adaptation. 

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