Movie review: 'It'

Brad Keefe

There's a reason children are so effective in horror movies. Childhood is kind of terrifying.

It's that point when your consciousness develops enough to have self-awareness of your surroundings without having much control over them.

It's when we really learn fear, and some of those fears become our most lasting and deepest.

And this is probably the reason why “It” is still one of Stephen King's most popular novels. And why the film adaptation deserves to be raking in all this box-office dough.

In the town of Derry, Maine, children are disappearing without a trace. Young Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) is still reeling from the disappearance of his younger brother, depicted in a truly creepy scene that introduces the audience to the unseen evil in the town, manifest in a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard).

Bill's childhood wasn't easy before that, thanks to a deep stutter that inevitably made him a target of bullies. A band of similar young misfits that lovingly labels itself “the Losers” forms, and they soon have a lot to bond over.

The Losers all have more in common than being social outcasts. They all see intense visions that tie to their individual deepest fears. And they all have a unique thread: a clown.

The first major shift director Andy Muschietti makes with his film from the King novel is a significant but logical one. The childhood portion of the novel is set in the early '60s, but here events have shifted to the late '80s, complete with some obligatory pop-culture references.

This fact, and the appearance of child actor Finn Wolfhard of Netflix's “Stranger Things,” have led to more than a few comparisons to that series. Fair, but “It” is also digging into many of the same Spielberg-ian influences that “Stranger Things” so shamelessly apes.

It's really that childhood bonding that gives “It” emotional resonance, as well as the scares it taps into. And, yes, it is perfectly great as an old-school scary movie. The difference is it generally earns it.

Skarsgard's performance is chilling even under heavy makeup, and some of his mannerisms and vocal choices make this a scene-stealer in the vein of Heath Ledger's Joker.

But it's the young cast that makes this story hum, a great mix of young and mostly unknown talent that make these kids feel real.

When we see ourselves in these kids, we feel their fear. “It” gets it. Let's hope the completion of this story (the forthcoming “Pennywise,” which focuses on these characters 27 years later) can come close to matching the first chapter.


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4 stars out of 5