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USA / Canada
Director: Andy Muschietti
Runtime: 135 minutes
I’ll have to admit; I did not have much hopes for this adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel of childhood fears because let’s face it, most movies adapted from King’s novels or short stories wind up being complete messes, or at least, much lesser than the sum of their parts. As a matter of fact, out of King’s enormous output of what seems to be about a novel or two a year (and mind you, for his novels keep getting fatter and fatter and more verbose by the second), sometimes one or two make it to above average, or simply good, but would you remember it come tomorrow? Possibly not. Would it scare you as much as his books? Nope.
However, there is always that one movie that comes alive like Pennywise feeding cycles. First it was Carrie, but it had Brian de Palma, a master of suspense in the vein of Hitchcock who tacked on an ending that wasn’t in the original but virtually created the Final Scare that works today just as it did in 1976. Kubrick’s version of The Shining is still considered a controversial good movie due to the fact that nowhere in the movie is the essence of the novel; the bare bones of the story are there, sure, but essentially, this is Kubrick’s imagination of what would have been his own horror movie, and it is one long, trip down a long corridor where . . . well, You know.
And on, and so forth, the 80s brought about one movie based on a Stephen King novel or short story compilation, Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone is horror at its coldest, Creepshow had that cockroach episode that on its own made me want to seal up my place over and over again and drench it with bug repellent. Christine did zero for me; it was a silly movie adapted from an insane novel that along with Tommy-knockers, seem to have been produced on a drug trip. One had to wait until 1990 to see another psychological horror novel come to chilling life in Misery. That movie made Kathy Bates; it won her the Oscar — a feat still unmatched since horror movies (and performances such as hers) don’t glean awards. It’s another example of the movie being better and more compact than the novel, which had a somewhat anticlimactic end, a thing King has a tendency to do now, which is what I think his way of saying, “Sometimes you just don’t get that happy ending.”
For several years I’d been reading the hype leading to the making of It, and I just didn’t think much of it until I began seeing teaser trailers, pictures of the new Pennywise. Reader, I have to say, when I walked into the theater I had less than average expectations. I thought, well, there goes another two hours of my life in a movie that even with today’s technology just can’t quite capture the spirit of such a rich and rewarding coming of age book.
How mistaken I was!
From the second the movie opens, I can’t explain it: it felt like something magical was happening. The death of Georgie Denbrough is captured in its own time capsule, the camera tracking every movement as he runs after his paper boat (that older brother Bill made for him). It is, to say the least, the slow, progressive awakening of the unnamed thing that has been lurking under the city and within its fabric for ages untold. I was perhaps slightly disappointed that, like in King’s novel, the boat didn’t make its reappearance after Georgie had been killed, but what I wasn’t prepared for was that it would, and in a way I could not have imagined.
That, in a nutshell, is the experience I had while watching It: a movie that features no adults, but only kids in a town that seems to move on in a daze even as tragedies as horrific as Georgie’s take place. We get introduced to the seven major characters — extremely well defined and acted — and see what haunts them the most, and how events stemming from their ferocious, relentless bullying bring them together in shared fear for what they know and don’t know, and the friendship that blossoms as if they’d known each other for ages. We also get sight of the bullies, each of them just as horrifying as the monster in the sewers of Derry, always in wait for a chance to exact their own insecurities (enforced by their own hateful parents) on these otherwise non-violent kids.
We also get to see who, or what, is doing the haunting and oh, my God, does Skarsgaard not disappoint. I know that Tim Curry was as freaky and frightening as they come in the made-for-TV miniseries, and you would think that the movie would perhaps shy away from showing Pennywise in his clown form and remain only focused on what form of fear It appears to the kids. I’ve never seen a clown this completely disorienting, terrifying, and plain paralyzing, as this one. There is not a second when it’s not clear that everything about Pennywise suggest something so completely evil it’s almost unmentionable. That It only appears to the kids (and uses its powers to influence the bullies and the adults in town) makes for a greater adversary, and we move from scene after scene of terrible things happening to kids to more terrible things happening to kids with relentless speed. It is a deadly foe to even mess with, as the children learn in a scene involving a projector camera or going into the infamous house on Neibolt Street, but the seven children at the center of the movie have made a decision to, understanding what it is or not, to destroy it, and hopefully emerge unscathed.
Horror has always been a way to explore themes that otherwise would make for a dull or violent drama. All of the fears that these kids have is as credible as reality. Because the timeline of It has now moved to 1989, the fears are less drive in theater and more grounded in the mind and the heart. In Beverly Marsh’s case, her fear is centered on her awful dysfunctional father and her twisted relationship with him. In a way, clown aside, this is the story of kids. Good or bad, perhaps with the exception of the minor but well defined monstrous character of Patrick Hockstetter, all of the kids are victims of some form of neglect from their home and the world around them. All of them have witnessed horrific sights aside from what lack they experience at home. Somehow, horror has made them come together to face their own fears and move on into the next phase of their lives and the movie soars with wonderful moments of great beauty and earthy humor before sinking into that otherworldly place that is underground Derry, where It lives.
Reader, if you can believe this, I walked out of the theater in tears. Never has a horror movie left me in a state of near bliss and hopefulness. If this is what Chapter one can bring, I can only imagine what Chapter two will do two years from now. From what I read, it will get very, very dark. And I can’t wait.