Arts & CultureFilm & TV

Review: ‘It’ finds a balance between scares and childhood camaraderie

If you’re looking for a sign that Hollywood’s in bad shape, try this: “It” may be this summer’s biggest film.

That’s not completely surprising. Stephen King — whose 1,000 page novel is the basis for Andy Muschietti’s new film — is a household name. Past King adaptations have a decent track record. But in a summer populated by superheroes and Transformers, it’s wholly unexpected that the movie industry is in the midst of a huge box office slump. You might run across a few articles projecting “It” as the savior of a terrible season for film.

That label’s accurate. “It” earned over $123 million in three days and shattered box office records for an R-rated movie. The good news: it’s completely deserving of the success, with an array of likeable characters and enough jump scares to keep audiences cowering in fear. Even with a final act that slows its narrative momentum, it’s a must-watch for horror fans.

Little has changed from King’s source material in terms of story. “It” follows a group of teenagers in the fictional town of Derry, Maine, as they struggle against a malevolent evil. Each of them has vices. Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) is still coping with the death of his little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) at the hands of the horrific Pennywise the Clown (a brilliant Bill Skarsgård) which happens in the film’s opening sequence. Beverly (Sophia Lillis) has to face her abusive father. Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) was raised a hypochondriac.

Pennywise haunts each of them by preying on their fears. Eddie is chased by a leper and Bill sees Georgie slowly decompose in front of him. These sequences are generally well-shot and constructed, even if Muschietti—whose debut in “Mama” was standard horror fare—relies heavily on jump scares as the film progresses. The scenes between the unnerving moments are what make the film tick. The chemistry between the actors is immediately palpable, thanks to each of their abilities in front of the camera. Finn Wolfhard (“Stranger Things”) is a highlight as Richie, the group’s motormouth.

What exactly is Pennywise? “A manifestation of pure evil” is an easy guess, though the film doesn’t have a straight answer. When the film’s three screenwriters are content with withholding explanations and the film maintains its scare-to-character balance, it all works quite well. Muschietti is a skilled horror director with a deft ear for clever sound design and a knack for manipulating an audience with fiendish glee.

Problems arise during the aforementioned final act, when the kids are forced to confront Pennywise head-on. It’s at this point that Muschietti ditches simple uneasiness and doubles down on the jump scares. Pennywise’s lair is little more than an oversaturated haunted house, and the film’s length – nearly two-and-a-half hours – ensures that viewers are all but exhausted. It’s a marathon that makes audiences numb to even the most frightening images.

Muschietti’s vision and technical prowess are hard to fault. The film is well-shot, well-casted and features a number of fine performances. If one film resurrects the corpse of the Hollywood blockbuster, let it be this one. It’s better to stomach a bad ending than an entire season of bad movies.

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Dana Alston

Dana Alston

Dana Alston is an Associate Arts & Culture Editor from San Jose, CA. He writes about film, music, and television. Paul Thomas Anderson is his one true god.

You can follow his meme-endorsed social media ramblings @AlstonDalston on Twitter or Letterboxd, or shoot him some eloquent hate mail at [email protected]