IT star cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgård
IT director: Andy Muschietti
IT rating: 2.5 stars
In Stephen King’s novel IT, a supernatural figure terrorises children by exploiting their fears, manifesting itself as a clown. In the film adaptation, the horrors lie closer to home, in the form of a sexually predator father, an abusive dad, a sad and overprotective mother, and a Rabbi who may be pushing his son too hard. Plus the grim town is over-run by a gang of school bullies who, during one routine afternoon, carve names into the stomach of a young boy. And yet, we are supposed to believe that clown, which can be shut behind closed doors and which somehow doesn’t kill despite all those teeth, is the scariest thing happening to the seven children.
Muschietti begins well, with a child in a yellow raincoat bent next to a sewer and holding a conversation with a clown with striking blue eyes who hides inside, on a grey, rain-drenched day. Minutes later, all that is left on the road is a patch of red. Scenes of violence against children on film are rare, but in a flash, Muschietti gives us a chewed-up arm, a wounded, crawling kid, and that patch of red.
IT, despite all the horror-film stunts it pulls from then on, and then some, never achieves that same level of dread. That child’s elder brother, Bill (Lieberher), had sent him out that day, and is now riven with guilt and obsessed about finding him down the sewers. He drags with him his friends Richie (Wolfhard), Eddie (Grazer) and Stanley (Oleff). Later, the four are joined by three other ‘misfits’: a girl dubbed a slut, Beverley (Lillis), a plump child with no friends, Ben (Taylor), and a Black kid who is also a victim of the bullies, Mike (Jacobs).
King’s novel spanned a thousand-plus pages, but even given that, Muschietti makes a meek and failed effort at establishing the fears of the seven, which sustain the clown. As a result, the scary thing, or ‘It’, seems to pop up at random, and consistently, and targets only the seven for reasons that remain undefined.
What saves the film from collapsing is the acting by the children, who are effortlessly natural, whether they are just being boys or just being scared kids. As the object of their combined admiration, but with horrors of her own courtesy the sexually abusive father, Lillis is both boldly aware and heartbreakingly fragile. She also has a scene straight out of Stephen King’s Carrie when, as she starts menstruation, she finds herself drenched in blood gushing out of a sink. (The Censors though are intent on hiding something else she picks up apart from tampons in the chemist shop; a grey patch covers the packet.)
As the seven hang out together one summer day, swimming in a creek in plain-white, innocent underwear, listening to a transistor, there is a story in the air. Of children, their friendships, and the real horrors of figuring a way to adulthood amidst benignly negligent or malevolently hurtful parents.
But this film is not it.
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