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It Remake is Messy, But Packs Plenty of Scares

A review of the new version of the Stephen King tale, plus local movie news and notes.


The weight of great expectations hangs heavy on the remake of “It,” the labyrinthine and skin-crawling horror epic originally written by Stephen King.

The release of a terrifying trailer in March set a record for online views in a single day after being viewed nearly 200 million times in 24 hours. Ever since, the question on the minds of horror fans has not been whether or not this “It” (the first was a lengthy TV movie released in 1990) would be effective; rather, discussions have circled around whether this film would be among the best frighteners ever made.

Perhaps it’s due to the increased cultural phobia of clowns; perhaps “Stranger Things,” extensively influenced by King’s 1980s work, reignited nostalgia for the longtime master of pulp shock. Maybe we’re just starved for a great horror movie. Whatever the reason, anticipation has been remarkably high for the return of Pennywise the clown.

Can the film live up to the hype?

No. But it’s still pretty good.

Adapting the events of the first half of King’s massive novel, “It” follows a group of lovable, self-described losers in the fictional town of Derry, Maine. All have troubles — rough parents, violent bullies, social ostracization — but those woes are background noise to a bigger problem: People in Derry seem to suffer tragic deaths and mysterious disappearances quite often, and kids are the most frequent victims.

Our crew begins having terrifying visions unique to their personal fears, often involving a monstrous, cackling circus clown. As it becomes more and more clear that the gang is in serious danger, they reckon with the need to confront the unknown.

“It” is, in all forms, a messy and difficult story, delving deep into the complicated universe laid out in King’s works. While many have fond memories of the 1990 version — primarily thanks to Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise — that adaptation held up for half of its runtime at best before utterly falling apart.

There is a similar, if less pronounced, arc at work in this latest version; the setup and early scares are great, the payoff is OK. Director Andrés Muschietti creates an invasive, unsettling atmosphere that permeates even the light-hearted and humorous moments in the film (of which, surprisingly, there are many), while the screenplay — from a trio led by Cary Fukunaga — does fine work in building its characters and, more vitally, their personal demons.

As confrontation looms, though, cracks begin to show. Some of the film’s effects are believable and harrowing; others are obvious digital creations. The promising plot begins to lose threads as the film becomes a stock quest story (go to the place, beat the bad guy). Many of the more troubling aspects of King’s story are hinted at without being fully confronted; they should’ve either been left in or cut out entirely.

Fortunately, the cast carries the film ably; among the youths, Finn Wolfhard and Sophia Lillis stand out. And — at the risk of slighting one of the genre’s sacred cows — Bill Skarsgård provides the definitive interpretation of Pennywise, tapping deep into the guttural fears that make so many people terrified of clowns. He needs no special effects; the fear comes from the actor.

The only way to be let down by “It” is to expect too much. It is a successful, frightening adaptation that nevertheless finds a way to be something of a crowd-pleasing popcorn flick, in spite of its subject matter. Is it the best horror film of the decade (or even the year)? No. Certainly not. But don’t let overhype ruin your night; you’ll still leave the theater terrified of the circus. And balloons.

*      *      *

The Montage: Dormont’s Hollywood Theater will this Saturday host an auction of movie posters dating back to the 1920s. The collection of late Brentwood barber Allen Seich, including golden-age rarities, will be auctioned; the Hollywood will also auction autographed items from its own collection and give a free poster to all visitors while supplies last. Tonight, a pre-auction viewing of the collection and a screening of the documentary “24x36: A Movie About Movie Posters” will precede the auction itself, set for Saturday morning at 10 a.m. Click here for more info ... Missing summer already? Keep blockbuster season alive in your heart by heading to Row House Cinema for Superhero Week, featuring “Blade,” “Batman Returns,” “Superman” (the Christopher Reeve version) and “Wonder Woman.”


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