As a general rule of thumb, when you give Stephen King material the “Spielberg Treatment,” good things happen — just ask Rob Reiner, who did it twice and found critical and box office success on both occasions. Admittedly, the opportunities to make nominally “family-friendly” populist blockbusters based on novels by a guy billed as the “Master of Horror” are few and far between, but still — when you can find ’em, you gotta take ’em. Especially when there’s (for reasons I can’t really fathom, but that’s neither here nor there) a bona fide 1980s revival going on. So, yeah, in a very real sense, director Anthony Muschietti’s cinematic adaptation of It has all the pop culture stars aligned in its favor. And yet —

Plenty of other sure-fire “successes” that were served up equally easy slow pitches over the middle of the plate somehow managed to swing and miss, didn’t they? Not that it entirely deserves its decades-long slagging, but we’re still talking about Ishtar to this day with barely-stifled mockery and condescension. Every single obituary written for the late, great Michael Cimino just had to bring up Heaven’s Gate. And having the “hottest” couple Hollywood ever saw (at least at the time of its release) as its two co-stars wasn’t enough to convince anyone to spend their hard-earned money on a ticket to see Gigli. None of these films have much in common on paper, I suppose, other than the one thing that matters most — studio execs were absolutely sure they were going to be not just big, but huge  (and they were willing to spend a lot of money to prove how right about that they were), but audiences just didn’t care. There’s no such thing, in the final analysis, as a “guaranteed” cultural phenomenon.

And let’s face it — in the time between me seeing It and finally getting off my ass (or on it, as I guess would be more technically accurate) to review the damn thing, “cultural phenomenon” is precisely the status it’s graduated to. I saw it on Monday, it’s now Saturday, and in that short six-day span it’s gone from being one of the rarest creatures found in the Tinseltown jungle — a genuine fall season blockbuster — to the highest-grossing horror film of all time, surpassing the total cumulative take of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist in just its third weekend of wide release. That’s just plain nuts.

Astute followers of this site could be forgiven, then, at this point, for assuming that a negative review was forthcoming here as a matter of course — if most people like it then I probably won’t being a pretty fair summation of how things usually work around these parts — and I’ll be the first to admit that my inner cynic was battling hard against my largely- (and thankfully-) repressed sentimentalist streak for about the good first half or so of the film, but then something funny happened : my inner cynic, uncharacteristically, just gave up the fight. It had me beat. I shut up (not that I ever really talk during a movie, much less to myself), went with the flow, and damn near loved the thing.

And, hey, why not? Sure, I already knew the story — an evil clown (let’s be honest, they all are) who hangs out in a storm sewer (okay, they don’t all do that) named Pennywise (played by Bill Skarsgard) abducts a kid named Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott), kicking off a big ole mystery wherein Georgie’s older brother, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) and his gang of misfit friends decide to get to the bottom of not just the recent spate of disappearances in their hometown of Derry, Maine, but all the freaky and evil shit that’s been happening there for centuries — but the story, dare I say it, is almost surplus to requirements here. Flicks like this are all about invoking heavy-duty atmosphere, and it’s on that score that Muschietti and his small army of screenwriters come up trumps.

What sort of “atmosphere” are they shooting for, though, I hear you ask? Well, that by and large depends on how old you are, and the fact that you can see exactly how and why It would appeal to the two disparate age groups it’s geared towards is the surest sign that they got this film more or less exactly right. For the teens and tweens, everything here is metaphor for loss of innocence, the inevitable onset of puberty (and, eventually, adulthood), and all your other standard “coming-of-age” stuff (look for the most painfully obvious and overblown “fear of menstruation” scene you’ve ever seen in your life, with a whole goddamn bathroom full of blood), while for the grown-ups the whole thing is a bittersweet nostalgic lament for all we lost when we made the highly questionable decision (not that nature gave us much choice in the matter) to grow the fuck up. If you’re thinking “hey, that just sounds like E.T. or The Goonies with a creepy-ass clown,” I’m not going to say you’re wrong, but — really, it does work. I promise.

Much of that’s down to the cast, of course — child actors Lieberher, Scott, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard (who did this exact same thing already in Stranger Things), Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Chosen (really? You’d do that to your own flesh and blood?) Jacobs all do superb work (particularly Lillis, who navigates her role as the lone girl in the group amazingly well), but the script gives almost all of these kids a bit more in terms of backstory than we’re used to in movies of this sort, probably owing to the extra “fleshing out” that the film’s “R” rating allows for. None of the Goonies kids were being molested by their fathers, for instance, as Lillis’ Beverly character is here, and there were no potential love (or at least crush) triangles among Elliott’s group of pals. Injecting these decidedly downbeat and “adult” themes into a movie of this sort could be trouble, of course, but you know what? Muschietti and his cast strike just the right notes with even their most combustible sub-plots and you end up liking these kids all the more precisely because of the sympathy you feel for them being forced to grow up too damn fast. Oh, and far as junior psychopaths go, Nicholas Hamilton’s Henry is the best we’ve seen in a popcorn flick in a long time — and even he’s given the dignity of some explanation as to why he’s such a disagreeable little bastard.

Still, even for all this effusive praise, who are we kidding? When you crank out a review this late in the game, chances are that anyone reading it has already seen the movie in question — and it seems like everybody in the world has already seen It. So, yeah, even if you trust my judgment as a critic implicitly (as if), nothing I say here is going to get you out to the theater to give this a look because 90-plus percent of the folks reading this have already done so. Tell you what, though — there’s surely no shame in seeing something this well-done again, is there? And the more I think about It, the more I become convinced that I’m probably going to end up doing exactly that myself.


  1. Ryan C. (trashfilmguru) says:

    Reblogged this on Through the Shattered Lens.

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