The long and short of It

No clowning around with latest Stephen King adaptation

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With more than a thousand pages of small-town melodrama and adolescent angst, all pungently flavoured with tongue-slashing bay leaves of Lovecraftian madness, Stephen King’s novel It could never be corralled into a single movie.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/09/2017 (1916 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

With more than a thousand pages of small-town melodrama and adolescent angst, all pungently flavoured with tongue-slashing bay leaves of Lovecraftian madness, Stephen King’s novel It could never be corralled into a single movie.

That’s why, in its first screen iteration, it was a TV miniseries, memorable mostly for Tim Curry’s nightmare-inducing turn as a supernatural predator who appeared to children in the guise of Pennywise, the Dancing Clown. (Coupled with his turn as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Curry was two-for-two when it came to indelible portrayals in genre films.)

The new version of It is a big-screen two-parter, with the first part stuck in the 1980s, specifically 1989, when a group of downtrodden adolescents band together to form “the Losers Club.” (In the book and miniseries, the early half of the story was set in the 1950s, but director/co-screenwriter Andy Muschietti understands the ongoing lie of nostalgia: i.e. the ’80s were no more an age of innocence than the ’50s.

Pennywise, the Dancing Clown, in the new adaptation of Stephen King's novel It.

In the cursed Maine town of Derry, young Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) becomes the founding member of the Losers Club by suffering a loss: his little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), playing in the rain, loses his paper boat in the sewer, where he encounters the lurking Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard). Georgie is one of many kids to go missing in Derry, a plague that somehow seems to evade the consciousness of the adult townsfolk.

Bill becomes the nucleus of other socially challenged kids, including the hilarious, foul-mouthed Richie (Finn Wolfhard of the thematically related Netflix series Stranger Things), the quiet, meek Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), and the hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer). Falling into their orbit are the rebellious, reputed bad girl Beverly (Sophia Lillis) and the orphaned Mike (Chosen Jacobs), a kid obliged to work through the summer slaughtering sheep.

Terrorizing all of them is Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), a kid on the cusp of graduating from mere bully to full-flowered psychopath.

All the kids have fraught relationships with adults, which simultaneously makes them susceptible to the psychological terrors served up by Pennywise and gives them the required self-sufficiency to ultimately take him on.

From left: Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie Kaspbrak; Jaeden Lieberher as Bill Denbrough; Chosen Jacobs as Mike Hanlon; Wyatt Oleff as Stanley Uris; Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh, Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben Hanscom and Finn Wolfhard as Richie Tozier in the horror thriller It. (Courtesy of Brooke Palmer)

Muschietti’s previous genre go-round was Mama, a comparatively low-key thriller wherein haunted children brought out the tiger step-mom in Jessica Chastain (likely contender for the Beverly-to-be in the next instalment of It). He proved capable of working with juvenile actors, a strength that proves invaluable with It, since the kids hold the film together, especially Lieberher as the traumatized Bill, Wolfhard as the reliably sardonic Richie and Lillis as Beverly, a kid facing especially tough challenges when it comes to incipient womanhood. Hamilton is a notably excellent non-supernatural villain who gives Pennywise a run for his money.

Muschietti falls in line with the big studio approach to horror, employing a saturation bombing of our nerves when a more circumspect rattling would suffice. (The more we see Pennywise, the less scary he becomes.)

Still, on the strength of those performances, coupled with high-quality production, this is an entertaining horror show that knowingly reflects its ’80s influences. The film has the big set pieces of The Goonies and Gremlins, but it’s all leavened with the persistent melancholy of another King adaptation, Stand By Me

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

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Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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Updated on Friday, September 8, 2017 7:40 AM CDT: Adds photo

Updated on Friday, September 8, 2017 2:16 PM CDT: Fixes typo

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