(US - 2017)
Directed by Andy Muschietti. Written by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman. Cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgard, Nicholas Hamilton, Owen Teague, Jake Sim, Logan Thompson, Jackson Robert Scott, Stephen Bogaert, Stuart Hughes, Steven Williams, Megan Charpentier, Javier Botet. (R, 134 mins)
Stephen King's gargantuan 1986 best seller was already turned into an ABC miniseries in 1990 with middling results, and the long-in-the-works big screen adaptation of half of it takes a more successful if still flawed stab at the material. I remember checking It out of the library when I was 13 and barely sleeping for the next week as I devoured over 200 pages per day, reading well into the night. At 69, King is more prolific than ever, even if his current output doesn't carry the same cache as his glory days--he's probably dusting off second-rate stuff he's had stashed away for 30 years--but in 1986, the Stephen King brand was at its ubiquitous zenith. He was cranking out what seemed like at least two books a year, and every other week, it felt like a new King movie adaptation was hitting theaters. The 1990 miniseries did what it could with some of the more graphic horrors depicted on the page, but it's hard not to think that an epic big-screen version of the novel would've been a better move 25 or 30 years ago. IT 2017 began as a project for Cary Fukunaga, best known for directing the first season of TRUE DETECTIVE. He eventually bailed over disagreements during pre-production, with Gary Dauberman (ANNABELLE) reworking Fukunaga and Chase Palmer's script and MAMA director and Guillermo del Toro protege Andy Muschietti at the helm. MAMA showed Muschietti had sufficient genre chops, and IT doesn't disappoint if you're looking for loud, constant jump scares.
THE DEVIL'S REJECTS. Scary clowns have always been a thing, but it's only in the relatively recent era that they've become a pop culture trope. Skarsgard is a flamboyantly terrifying Pennywise when he's allowed to act, but so many of his appearances are so heavily enhanced by CGI and digital trickery that it sometimes minimizes him until he's just part of the scenery, the shaky-cam clown attacks all becoming a bit of a blur.
"Antisocial" seems too slapsticky, and a DONNIE DARKO-esque Steadicam trip through the junior high school set to The Cult's "Love Removal Machine" in place of Tears for Fears' "Head Over Heels" all smack of the kind of lazy referencing that's supposed to be funny simply because it's old and easily-recognized. The ensemble of young actors is extremely well-cast, with MIDNIGHT SPECIAL's Jaeden Lieberher the nominal lead as Bill Denbrough, whose younger brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) was sucked into a sewer drain by It a year earlier. The town of Derry, ME is beset by a string of child disappearances, just the latest in a series of tragedies that befall the town every 27 years. Of course, only the kids--an outcast clique dubbed "The Losers"--figure this out as they're haunted one-by-one by sudden appearances of Pennywise, sometimes as a clown and sometimes as an evil woman or a homeless leper (Javier Botet) on the outskirts of town. And this is when they aren't dealing with psychotic bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton, a potential William Zabka of his generation, briefly seen in a similar role in the recent King adaptation THE DARK TOWER), or abusive parents, whether it's hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) being Munchausen-by-proxy'd by his crazy mother or tomboyish Beverly (Sophia Lillis), whose mother seems to be out of the picture and whose father (Stephen Bogaert) has obviously sexually molested her in the past and possibly the present. It's one of IT 2017's more intriguing elements that the most sympathetic parental figure in the film is police chief Bowers (Stuart Hughes), who knows exactly what kind of monster his son is, intervenes when he's about to shoot a helpless cat, and often turns up as a guardian angel of sorts for The Losers and doesn't hesitate to humiliate his asshole son in front of his stupid buddies. This is one of many notable departures from King's book, where Chief Bowers is depicted as an abusive loathsome racist and anti-Semite largely responsible for turning his son into the person he's becoming.