More than ever before, America needs Stephen King. More to the point, the movie industry needs the creator of Carrie, The Shining, Cujo, Stand by Me, and The Green Mile to squirt some high-octane rocket fuel into the nation’s popcorn pits. Commentators and business analysts have been hyperventilating the past few weeks over miserable summer box office figures from the “shared entertainment” platform — this despite the fact that 2017 is shaping up, at least by some reckonings, to be a strong year for intelligent, thought-provoking films.
What’s missing, the experts say, is a hit for the whole family. Something to make the 12-to-28 audience drop their hand-helds and whoop with joy. Something with loads of safe, acceptable, soft-R-rated fright effects, headless teenagers, and nightmare-inducing bogeymen, with a little sex. Something like Pet Sematary or Children of the Corn. In other words, Stephen King.
It is it. At least, it’s the best we have to work with at this stage of the Fall release season. Blood by the gallon, overpowering waves of fear, and a sense of abject helplessness tinged with a tantalizing glimmer of hope. A no-brainer. You want butter with that?
There’s trouble deep down in the soul of the town of Derry, as there is everyplace in America on which King’s gaze falls — adapted in this case by writers Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman, for director Andy Muschietti. Derry has a nasty history of explosions, massacres, etc. Lately, children have been going missing in alarming numbers, including little Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), younger brother of a sensitive and courageous, if stuttering, adolescent named Bill (Jaeden Lieberher). It’s now up to Bill, in league with his brand new female pal Beverly (well cast Sophia Lillis) and fellow members of the “Losers’ Club,” to right the wrongs.
Easier said than done. In its race to pile spectacle upon eye-popping spectacle, It lays on the terrors thicker than deer flies on a dropped hamburger. Chief among the opposition is Pennywise, a leading contender for Most Horrendous Cinematic Clown honors (brilliantly portrayed by Bill Skarsgård, of the Swedish acting family). The sewer-dwelling Pennywise’s job is to be the final shock-cut ingredient of every one of the movie’s most horrifying scenes, the poison cherry on top of the grisly sundae.
Needless to say, there are tons more grotesqueries: half-decomposed kids, a theme-park-ready haunted house, eerie paintings come to life, a bottomless well, a mobile made of deceased children, and bullies everywhere. Entire segments of the town’s population refuse to stay down after they die. As if all that weren’t enough, Beverly’s icky, leering, touchy-feely father (Stephen Bogaert) adds an extra layer of loathsomeness to her predicament. Oh, and the movie’s lone Black character, a picked-on teen named Mike (Chosen Jacobs) has his own challenges, as does Stanley, the rabbi’s son (Wyatt Oleff). Pennywise is an equal-opportunity tormentor of the innocent.
Bill is the movie’s moral compass. His rapprochement with Beverly, the town’s misunderstood “bad girl,” lends an all-important note of what can only be called sexual healing — the teenage variety, shy stolen kisses down at the gravel pit swimming hole — to what is essentially the most event-filled youth-market psychodrama of the year. For what that’s worth. The twin morals of the story are: 1) Stand up and face your fears, kids; and 2) Choose carefully when it’s time to hire a plumber. See It once and move on to other things.
Directed by Andy Muschietti. With Jaeden Lieberher and Sophia Lillis. Now playing.