By: Arlene Allen
There are so many scary things taking place in the world right now: war, politics,and natural disasters to name just a few. As a Floridian, I was pretty scared of Hurricane Irma. However, that didn’t stop me from thinking of and — giving myself the shivers — from the next take on Stephen King’s It. The movie’s truly frightening sequences and images are guaranteed to stay with you long after you leave the theater, even for the most jaded of horror fans.
It takes place in Derry, Maine, which is part and parcel of King’s familiar stomping ground. The film capitalizes on the very best of what King is known for: adolescent friendships, the pains and pangs of growing up and how everyday items and images can be transformed into something that scares you. Whether it’s clowns or that painting that has always given you the creeps, King knows exactly what scares you and the filmmakers of It transfers those terrifying images onto the big screen.
As most know from the trailer, the film opens with a little boy named Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) being lured by a twisted and sadistic clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) into a sidewalk storm drain. Despite seeing this image repeatedly, nothing can prepare you for the tension that grips you from the very first sight of the little paper boat – you know where it’s going to lead, but you somehow find yourself yelling at Georgie, “Don’t take it!” Within less than a couple of minutes, I felt myself hovering on the edge of my seat, readying my jacket to cover my head if I needed to. The score contributes to that effect and that tension never lets up.
The seven kids left in the wake of the disappearance of Georgie and other children from the town are bound together at first by Bill, Georgie’s older brother. All of the kids have been let down by their parents, whether it’s been from benign neglect, abuse or something even more sinister, and each one starts to have thus-far unexplained experiences that leave them (and the audience) horrified. The imagery is just so great, whether it’s that of a creepy painting come to life or a boy’s severed head caught in a tree, it just leaves an imprint on your brain.
Not every horror in the moment is overt. Going back to the parents, they are all freaky and disturbing in their own right. Bill’s parents are unforgiving, Bev’s dad is abusive and gives off sexual predator vibes, Eddie’s mom is hideous both physically and mentally and Stanley’s dad can’t hide his disdain for son’s educational struggles. It’s implied that this too is one of Pennywise’s effects. The evils of bullying also come into play, but this is scarily all too human. All of our young heroes and heroine are social outcasts in one way or the other – they call themselves The Losers Club – and all fall prey to the town psychopath, Henry (Nicholas Hamilton), and his goons. Some of the things Henry does are just jaw-dropping in their cruelty.
The kids trace the terrifying events back to the town’s origins and a mysterious well, as well as to the being known as Pennywise the Clown. If you weren’t afraid of clowns before, you will be now. Bill Skarsgård is just amazing in the role; if you are a fan of Tim Curry’s version from the 1990 television movie, trust me, you won’t be disappointed. In addition to the imagery, Skarsgård’s voice and laughter will also linger in your mind.
Of course, many things have changed since 1990 so much that was cut out or unable to be depicted can now be explored in graphic detail in this R-rated film. Sure, this also gives the film that added edge. I have read some complaints about this or that scene not being included, but no matter how faithful an adaptation you aim for something from a 1,000 page plus sized book is simply not going to make the cut. If you go in knowing and accepting that, you will enjoy the film that much more.
The children all give great performances. Jaeden Lieberher (The Book of Henry) is Bill, a kid wrecked by his brother’s disappearance and his parents’ hostility; Jeremy Ray Taylor is Ben the new kid, a target for the school bullies because of his status and weight; Sophia Lillis is the luminous Bev; Finn Wolfhard of “Stranger Things” fame is the foul-mouthed Richie; Chosen Jacobs (who was a semi-regular on “Hawaii Five-O”) is Mike, whose parents were gruesomely killed by white supremacists; the hypochondriac Eddie is played by Jack Dylan Grazer and Wyatt Olef rounds out the crew as Stanley, the Jewish boy who disappoints his rabbi dad. Each one faces a unique terror; each one shares the spotlight and has their own moments to shine.
I love horror movies and I keep waiting for those rare films that actually mess with my mind, make me jump or elicit a scream. It doesn’t happen often, but it happened in spades with It. I’m looking forward to seeing Chapter Two!
Final Analysis: Sure, some will nitpick and a few will quibble over changes the film made to the story, but It is a terrific scare with images not easily forgotten. A+