Rated R for violence/horror, bloody images and language
Screenplay by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman, based on the novel by Stephen King
Directed by Andy Muschietti
Starring Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgard and more
Grade: Three stars
The newest version of “It” is a childhood drama interspersed with scenes from a haunted house.
Surprisingly, that’s not actually a bad thing. The movie, which opens this weekend, does a surprising amount of justice to the childhood storyline from Stephen King’s novel (the grown-up storyline is being saved for a planned sequel). All of the actors playing the kids are excellent, and sometimes completely hilarious, and moved me at several points. Those scenes were far more effective than the scary ones, and made the movie engaging when it failed to be frightening.
The newest incarnation of “It” follows a young man named Bill and his group of friends during one particularly dangerous summer in their seemingly picturesque hometown. Bill’s younger brother had gone missing earlier that year, disappearing when he went out in the rain to play, but he’s only one of an entire slew of local kids who have vanished. Experiences Bill and his friends have lead them to realize that there’s a creature, who they dub It and often appears in the form of a clown, that’s been killing people and terrorizing the town for more than a century.
The movie is listed under the drama category first on IMDB, and with good reason. The kids’ storyline is vastly improved without having to worry about shoehorning in the adults, and little details about some of the characters get more fleshed out (and, in some cases, redeemed from their book characterizations). This doesn’t happen to enough people, sadly – I wanted to hear more about all of them – but it makes the entire story that much more engaging.
This is particularly true of Bill’s relationship with his lost little brother Georgie. Jaeden Lieberher (who plays Bill) and Jackson Robert Scott (who plays Georgie) bring an immense amount of tenderness, innocence and grief to their interactions. I haven’t seen relationships as believable as theirs in Oscar-bait dramas.
Surprisingly, there are also plenty of funny moments. Jack Dylan Grazer, playing a young hypochondriac named Eddie, has an amazing line delivery that got the audience laughing even more tense serious moments. Finn Wolfhard, best known for his role in Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” also has a few really nice moments as the most bombastic member of the group of friends.
Anyone not terrified by clowns, however, will have a hard time actually being frightened by the latest version of “It.” Though there are a few solid jump scares, and a few particularly awful images that may end up lingering in the memory, most of the scares onscreen are straight out of childhood. If you’re not already afraid of things like clowns, or women with twisted faces, or walking corpses that look like they wandered straight out of the nearest haunted house, there’s absolutely nothing here to be afraid of.
There is, however, one surprising exception. Though it never quite comes out and say it – though King’s always been a little too attached to blood as a metaphor for puberty in girls – there’s a heavy implication that Beverly’s father is sexually abusing her. Stephen Bogaert’s performance emphasizes that strongly, and even though he never actually gets the chance to do anything I got chills any time he was anywhere near his daughter.
He’s far more terrifying than a demonic clown, especially because people like him are all too real.