Movie Review: ‘IT’ ain’t clowning around with its scares

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Connor Bynum // Film Critic

IT

Rated R, 135 minutes.
Director: Andy Muschietti
Cast: Bill SkarsgårdJaeden LieberherFinn WolfhardChosen JacobsJack Dylan GrazerWyatt OleffJeremy Ray TaylorJack Dylan Grazer and Nicholas Hamilton

Director Andy Muschietti delivers the best Stephen King adaptation in years

One would think we’ve gotten to the point where Stephen King adaptations have grown into their own subgenre in filmmaking. There are superhero movies, post-apocalyptic/dystopian teen-melodrama — the list goes on and on. Then you have Stephen King movies. As it goes with pretty much any classification in film, there are winners and there are losers. After the recent release of THE DARK TOWER came crashing down, fans of King’s work can rest easy: IT is no loser.

For those unfamiliar with King’s 1,138 page epic (average length of The Bible is 1,200 pages, so don’t kick yourself too hard if you haven’t read it), seven kids spend their summer vacation investigating the mysterious disappearance of multiple kids throughout their hometown of Derry, while struggling to cope with what they each fear the most. The leader of the endearingly named “Losers’ Club.” Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) can’t help but feel responsible for the loss of his younger brother, and pushes his friends to their limits as they venture deeper and deeper down the nightmarish rabbit hole.

The kids of the Losers’ Club in ‘IT.’ Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Believe it or not, many viewers may find themselves laughing more often than being frightened. That’s not to say the movie isn’t terrifying, because it absolutely is. But these kids simply steal the show. Director Andy Muschietti (MAMA) expertly directs his child actors to each give memorable performances. The dynamic between the film’s seven best friends is believable from start to finish, whether it’s their constant banter about nailing each other’s moms or their more serious infighting when things start to get real. Make no mistake, despite starring children, this movie is not for kids.

Right out of the gate, we are introduced to the main antagonist, Pennywise the Dancing Clown, played to absolute perfection by Bill Skarsgård (ATOMIC BLONDE). However, we soon find out he is more than just a demonic circus performer, but an entity that can take the form of his victim’s deepest fears. Fans of HARRY POTTER may know this as a “Boggart,” a.k.a. the “Riddikulus” exercise from PRISONER OF AZKABAN. Without delving into spoiler territory, Pennywise is simply brutal in the ways he terrorizes his victims. From contorting his body beyond recognition to more subtle ticks like never blinking his perpetually off-center glowing eyes, this villain is the stuff nightmares are made of.

But what kind of King adaptation would this be without multiple layers of villains? As if Pennywise wasn’t enough, we quickly find out that he Losers already have plenty of real things to fear: dealing with sociopathic bullies, sexually abusive parents, and talking to girls. The main theme of the film floats clearly: we are all at our most vulnerable when we feel alone.

Featuring stellar performances across the board, haunting cinematography, and expertly edited scares, IT is the best Stephen King adaptation in nearly 20 years. If you weren’t already afraid of clowns, IT just might make you want to join the club.

Grade: A

IT opens nationwide on Friday.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.

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