September 08, 2017

It

Anybody else craving a Krusty Burger?

Grade: B –
Director: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, and Jack Dylan Grazer
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hr. 15 min.

Carl Jung wrote that the clown, or trickster, “is a collective shadow figure, a summation of all the inferior traits of character in individuals.” To Jung, the clown projects the happy and tragic human feelings underlying the masks we wear in daily life. Love and loss, success and failure all have their deeply human side, and the clown reveals such things.

Director Andy Muschietti’s big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s It is a pretty good horror movie wrapped around a much better coming-of-age story. The creepy chills and thrills channel the travails of childhood, the particular fears that influence our maturation, from family loss to illness, menstrual angst, and, yes, Jungian archetypes. In a way, the film might have been better without the horror tropes and instead focused on what it really is: something approaching to King’s Stand By Me plus a teenage girl.

In the film’s affecting cold open, little George Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott) is yanked down a sewer grate by Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), the spooky clown of our darkest nightmares. After Georgie disappears, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) continues the crusade to find his little brother, one of dozens of kids who keep vanishing throughout the sleepy town of Derry, Maine (why don’t these folks just move away?!). Bill enlists the help of five friends, each beset by their own latent dread. They’re joined by Beverly (Sophia Lillis), the girl of every nerd’s dream who also harbors her own private trauma. They’re all haunted by Pennywise and his personalized demons, and together they set out to solve the “stranger things” plagued Derry.

The quality of the cast propels the film, aided by the built-in nostalgia of the late-1980s setting. We understand the characters’ pain, and we relate to their shared experiences. Lillis is the film’s emotional heart and the kid actor here you can imagine having the brightest future. The other standouts are Finn Wolfhard as the witty, foul-mouthed Ritchie, and Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie, his mommy’s Munchausen by proxy.

Muschietti slickly strings it all together, but the narrative feels like a series of vignettes more than a cohesive whole. Meanwhile, Skarsgård’s performance, toothy gaze and all, is disarmingly terrifying. But a little Pennywise seques into a lot, and the frights become more fitful as his methods become more supernatural and the film’s running time does its best to replicate King’s original 1,130-page doorstop. This clown ends up embodying the positive and inferior elements of both his young prey and the film itself.

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