I get it now. The creepy clowns. The red balloons. The yellow slicker. The references to “You’ll float too.” All things I’d be privy to had I read “IT” (the Stephen King novel) or seen IT as a television mini-series in 1990. Alas, the big-screen adaptation of IT served as my introduction to IT, and I can honestly say — as a reluctant horror-moviegoer — IT is scary good, and probably scary great for ITs die-hard fans.
For those who don’t know, IT tells the story of a group of young teenagers who square off against an evil clown named Pennywise who has been terrorizing, kidnapping and killing kids in their town of Derry, Maine for centuries. While the book interweaves the exploits of the main characters as kids and as adults 27 years later, the film focuses solely on the younger generation and takes place in 1989 (as opposed to the novel’s 1958 setting). For those disappointed by the notion of a stripped-down version of the literary nightmare, take heed. Hollywood banks on the prospect of sequels and franchises. IT will surely return if the box office screams for more. And IT will… [Insert Pennywise and pound foolish joke here].
Let’s face it. Stephen King knows how to do psychological drama and horror for the masses (The Shawshank Redemption, Carrie, The Shining, Stand by Me, etc.) I even liked the recent action-adventure fantasy flop The Dark Tower well enough, though IT is a much stronger movie – by far. King’s characters capture deep-seated emotions and situations that we all can relate to on some level. With IT, the kids who band together to confront evil incarnate (or incarnivalate?) are outcasts, often bullied and ridiculed by their peers. But they are decent kids who find strength in each other – and their friendship – during a summer break that has you wishing they’d gone to camp instead.
The cast is solid with Jaeden Lieberher (Midnight Special, St. Vincent, The Book of Henry) playing Bill Denbrough, the leader of the so-called Losers’ Club, who is determined to find his missing brother Georgie. Jeremy Ray Taylor shines as Ben, the husky new kid at school who likes listening to New Kids on the Block. Sophia Lillis is intriguing to watch as Beverly Marsh, the lone girl in the pack that also includes Richie (Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff). They may just be kids, but each carries the weight of some misfortune or fear that Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) feeds off of, literally.
IT, directed by Andy Muschietti (Mama), is a tense and creepy two hours and 15 minutes, but the movie doesn’t shy away from opportunities to be funny, cynical or sarcastic. And while IT is rated R, the violence is not as brutal and overt as I’ve seen in a bunch of PG-13 flicks. It’s just scarier and creepier. So horror fans, dive in! Don’t worry — you’ll float too. (If you see it, you’ll get it.)