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IT Review!

Please do note that IT is rated R for “violence/horror, bloody images, and language.”

Gard Jagermeyer Jondee here at Derry, Maine,

IT is directed by Andy Muschietti whose previous horror movie, Mama (2013) had a couple menaced by a supernatural spirit. This film is of course adapted from the Stephen King novel which came out in 1986 (the story is set around two years before this time). The publication date is about the same as when the current film is set in 1988. The novel though begun in 1957 which sets the pattern of every 27 years IT terrifies the small town of Derry, Maine. The sequel will pick up with the kids now adults in 2016.  The challenge of the new film is that there was a 1990 tv mini-series that was directed by Tommy Lee Wallace who is a collaborator with John Carpenter. It was Tim Curry’s performance that really made the mini-series into an iconic horror figure. So I watched Muschietti’s IT, but it felt as if something was missed and something was added. I went back to book and mini-series so the comparisons are inevitable. Breaking it down, the visuals of the movie are spooky, but the pacing is off. I saw that there were some new horrors that were creepy, but Bill Skarsgard (who is also in Atomic Blonde) is fairly one note, the scary clown. I had to re-watch Tim Curry, and it was varied how he would appear and his performance could be comedic, mocking, or terrifying.

The other part is the language, yes the R rating allows the kids to use language, but it doesn’t sound natural, more like scripted dialogue. The situation reminded me of the 1987 horror movie, The Monster Squad, which had salty mouthed kids fight classic monsters. The 80’s setting is mishandled; one character does play a video game at an arcade, he also has headphones on, there is some 80’s music with the running joke about New Kids on the Block. Still, the kids are like kids today, I remember everything was “rad”, and we were obsessed with TV and movies, maybe that was a right’s issue. Next, there are seven kids in the group, and I could only remember a few names from the book. The structure of the book and mini-series was using the flashbacks to identify the character in the “present” and then focus on him or her in the past filling in the story of the group.

Also missing is the hints of character’s occupations as kids; Ben is a historian and poet of the group, but becomes an architect. So enough babble, let’s get to the movie that opens with young Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott) who is in a yellow slicker waiting for his brother, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) to finish constructing a paper boat. Lieberher was also in this year’s The Book of Henry. He has a stuttering problem, but the actor doesn’t seem to suffer as much as Jonathan Brandis in the tv mini-series. Still, he is an interesting character and eventually becomes a horror writer like King.  There are a few parents and adults in the film, but for the most part, they are uncaring, authoritative, or threatening.  The S.S. Georgie is swept by the sidewalk currents and slips into a gutter. Georgie is checking the gutter when he is confronted by Skarsgard’s Pennywise. The outcome is violent and disturbing, but was in the book.

It moves to Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) who has to pull the trigger of a bolt stunner on a sheep. Jacobs is interesting, but there is not much for him to do in this film. It is the last day of Derry Middle School. Bill is there with his friends, Ritchie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard) and Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer). Wolfhard of course is known for playing Mike Wheeler in Stranger Things which really captures the creepiness beneath a small town and 80’s vibe. Here he plays jokester, Ritchie, but for some reason the film leaves out the “Beep, beep, Ritchie” line the others use when his jokes go too far. Eddie is a hypochondriac worried about germs, there is some nice touches, but he doesn’t constantly need his inhaler. We get the friends talking about Stan Uris (Wyatt Oleff) and his bar mitzvah (something added to the film). Oleff has been young Rumple in Once Upon a Time and young Peter Quill in this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. They are threatened by Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and his gang. This switches over to Bev Marsh (Sophia Lillis) who has trash dumped on her while she is smoking in the bathroom stall. She is the most interesting character in this film and more of a presence than Emily Perkins in the tv movie. Bullying is one of the persistent themes of the story.

Outside of the school is Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor) who is trying to balance his school project with his bike. Taylor is more interesting than the Ben of the tv movie (Brandon Crane). He is not given the nickname Haystack so it is difficult to distinguish the characters. Bev helps him out and takes away his headphones to hear that he likes New Kids on the Block. This is a moment between them and their farewell is loaded with funny New Kids song titles. Home schooled Mike is on his bike, delivering meat to a shop, ducks away from bully Henry driving through town, and sees an image from his past. His parents were lost in a fire, and he sees the shop door with tiny hands trying to claw past it. The door opens and Mike sees Pennywise. Pennywise’s eyes glow with the Deadlights, this is never explained in this film.  The problem with Pennywise’s horror is that it becomes predictable and also for the most part you have to go to some place to get haunted by him. The TV movie and novel establishes that Pennywise is everywhere in town, at home, at school, there is no escape. Ben writes a love poem on a postcard to Bev at the library. Then, he sees a red balloon floating, the shocking part of the mini-series is that it popped splattering blood on clueless readers, but this leads Ben down the stairs to see some monster that turns into Pennywise (again). This repetition makes the scares predictable.

The one creepy part, chills running up and down, was when Stan goes to return the Torah to his father’s room. He passes a painting of an aunt which has a strangely distorted face playing a flute. This is another Pennywise encounter, but a better scare, then the movie goes through the motions for me. The scene reminded me of The Conjuring, something you might notice at home, but turns creepy. The kids gather together to become the Loser’s Club. There is a scene with the Loser’s Club trying to understand what is happening with the missing kids in the town. In a garage, they go through slides to see a map of the town with a current map on the wall. Suddenly, it flickers through the slides and slowly shows Pennywise (shown in the trailer). A fun scene is where the kids go jump off a cliff into a river. The boys are stunned when Bev leads the way. Later, their jaws hit the floor, and we get a funny reveal. There is a haunted house, but everything leads to the sewers, and funny factoid about “grey water.” Hints of the Cthulhu-esque origins for IT are hinted at with the Lego turtle Bill finds in Georgie’s room.  So I will say that the scariest Stephen King adaptation was the TV mini-series IT, it still stays with me, the best adaptation I would say that embodies King’s ideas and horror, I would say another TV miniseries, The Langoliers (1995).

So I would rate this film, for cinematic vision and some interesting characters, Three Red Balloons out of Five!

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