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Logline: In the summer of 1989, a group of young misfits are terrorized by an ancient evil that takes the form of a clown.

Since his debut novel Carrie was first published in 1974, Stephen King has been one of the most successful and prolific horror writers of all time.  Many people will cite Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) as the greatest Stephen King film.  Despite The Shining being one of the greatest horror films of all time, there is no doubt that it is a Stanley Kubrick film through and through and the filmmaker made no qualms about taking extreme liberties with the source material.  Andy Muschietti’s new adaptation of King’s classic 1986 novel It, on the other hand, is faithful to the original source material and stands as one of the better film versions of a King novel.  That, in of itself, is no small achievement.

The film wisely focuses on the portions of the novel in which the characters are all children.  There is a planned follow-up film which will focus on the characters in their adult lives.  This is a guarantee considering the film’s major success.  Upon its release, It broke box office records and has already grossed over $209 million worldwide.

It is equal parts coming of age drama and horror film.  The cast of young actors, which includes Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things (2016), is excellent and is the very thing that makes this film so effective.  The screenplay takes the time to develop these characters and it pays off.  I genuinely cared about each of the kids and found them to be the most captivating aspect of the film.  For many of these young actors,  It is their first major studio film.  The Argentinan director’s affection for them permeates every scene. Their dialogue and banter is well-written and at times, downright hilarious.

The 1980s are trending and It is very much aware of this fact.  Set in the summer of 1989, It is reminiscent of such ’80s classics as A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Stand By Me (1986), the coming of age drama based on a King novella.  Unlike A Nightmare on Elm Street though, the horrors in It occur in broad daylight but still manage to frighten.  In It, the search is not for a missing body as in Stand By Me but for a demonic shape-shifting clown that feeds on the kids’ fears.

As Pennywise the Dancing Clown, Bill Skarsgard manages to be incredibly creepy.  Though I have not seen the 1990 miniseries starring Tim Curry, I think it is safe to say the 27-year-old Swedish actor had big shoes to fill.  Skarsgard is excellent and brings a fresh interpretation to King’s iconic creation.  As horrifying as Pennywise may be, he is only second to some of the horrors that the kids face at home.  In fact, some of the film’s most terrifying moments come when Beverly (Sophia Lillis) must confront her abusive father or when the kids must confront Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), their peer who doubles as a psychotic bully.

It is energetic, scary, funny, and surprisingly touching.  The film’s tone satisfied my ’80s nostalgia and love of horror films.  We are living in a new golden age of horror with such modern classics as The Babadook (2014), It Follows (2014), Goodnight Mommy (2014), The Witch (2015), and now, It, which stands out as one of the must-see films of 2017.

Rating (out of ****): ***1/2

 

 

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