Tuesday , 28 March 2023

The Fears of a Clown – IT review

IT is happening. The new adaptation of one of Stephen King’s most popular, and at 1138 pages, longest novels, is taking theaters, and the world of horror, by storm. Tapping into childhood fears, and some adult ones too, IT is proving to be just as chillingly effective as it was when it was released in literary form back in 1986. Not the first filmed version of King’s epic story – a 1990 miniseries aired on ABC in 1990 – IT is compelling, heartfelt, and of course, frightening, from beginning to end. IT is everything you’d want in a horror film, and then some.

“If we stick together, all of us, we’ll win.”

IT takes place in a quaint town in Maine beginning in October, 1988 (setting events three decades after the 50’s timeline of the novel). People in town, mostly children, are disappearing at an alarming rate. The root of all this misery is an evil being that plays on its victims fears, disguising itself accordingly, but primarily in the form of a colorful, dancing clown named Pennywise, the better to attract its preferred victims. When several children, already frequent victims of the town’s bullies, become targets of this malevolent force as well, they band together, forming “The Losers’ Club”, to take on Pennywise and put an end to his reign of terror once and for all.

As a horror film, IT works on many levels. Since this malicious entity is able to take the form of whatever scares you the most, this results in a variety of terrifying manifestations, not the least of which is Pennywise himself whenever he reveals his most horrific visage. He is a sight to behold, with his wide grin and eyes slightly askew as he attempts to lure his victims in for the kill. There are plenty of jump scares awaiting at every corner, and the sound design, so vital to a horror film’s effectiveness, is in full dynamic range here, reaching ear-shattering crescendos at times.

What truly makes IT stand out is its incredible cast of kids and the characters they portray. These outsiders all have issues that they are dealing with – a speech impediment, being overweight, an abusive home life – and their individual situations, along with their collective one, draws the audience into their plight and makes you care about what happens to them, even when certain characters veer towards the annoying or even unlikable at times. Every single one of the seven gets the chance to shine, most notably Jaeden Lieberher as the stuttering Bill, and Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh, the lone female in the group. Lillis,a 15-year old actress out of Brooklyn, NY, is especially one to watch for in the future. Her Beverly is bright-eyed and thoughtful, and obviously cooler than cool by the Replacements/Young Fresh Fellows poster hanging in her room, which only masks the abuse she suffers from both at home and at school. That someone who is so put upon can still manage to face the world with optimism and help others who are equally unfortunate is inspiring and moving. Shout outs go to all the other young actors, including Jack Dylan Grazer as hypochondriac Eddie, Jeremy Ray Taylor as the ‘big-boned’ Ben, Wyatt Oleff as the most skeptical of the group, Stan, Chosen Jacobs as Mike, an orphan being forced by his granddad into doing rather disdainful work, and Finn Wolfhard as bespectacled motormouth Richie. Finn you may recognize from Netflix’ acclaimed horror series, Stranger Things, a show that owes a lot to IT and other works by Stephen King, like Stand By Me. And of course, we can’t forget Bill Skarsgard, the Swedish actor so chillingly effective as Pennywise himself.

While IT knows what scares you and does, it’s the story of these kids that grab you and carry you through to the end. Even without the horror elements, IT would work as a standalone, coming-of-age drama. The film really captures the essence of what being a kid is like, and was like in the 80’s (we see Beetlejuice and Gremlins movie posters on one kid’s bedroom walls). Everything from the sheer joy of splashing around in the rain to the utter fear of walking into a dark basement in one’s own home is perfectly rendered. That camaraderie one feels in hanging with others you manage to find some common ground with, even when you don’t always see eye to eye on things, is wonderfully brought to life here. It’s a time to cherish and enjoy, despite any hardships or dangers, as it won’t last forever, and most likely not with these same friends either.

IT marks the sophomore effort of Andy Muschietti, whose previous work, Mama, was a substantial hit back in 2013. He once again shows his adept ability in working with younger actors. And though IT is rated R for some spurts of violence, it isn’t a gorefest by any means, relying more on dread and scares that aren’t splattered in blood. Kudos to all those who worked on the set design and f/x, including the non-CGI work of f/x masters, Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr. of Amalgamated Dynamics (Alien films, Starship Troopers, Oscar-winning Death Becomes Her and their recent Kickstarter project, Harbinger Down). It is always good to see the work of these guys in action. (Read our exclusive interview with Alec Gillis.)

The idea to do another version of IT now couldn’t be more timely. (In a nice bit of timing, the movie comes out 27 years after its TV mini-series counterpart, in conjunction to ‘It’s cicada-like re-emergence after that same time period in the story.) We are living in an age of lost innocence, with bullies rearing their ugly heads in our streets and in positions of power. Evil forces threaten us from afar and in our own backyard. However, if we band together, and work alongside each other despite our differences, we can ultimately come out on top in the end. It’s a message we should all take to heart. And fortunately for us, we haven’t yet seen the last of IT, as the title card is revealed as IT: Chapter One. More welcome words haven’t been seen on a theater screen since that of, “James Bond will return….” We can’t wait to see what else IT has in store for us.

— review by Brian de Castro