Growing up is scary: a review of “It”

Truthfully terrifying, endearingly real and not what  moviegoers might expect from a scary movie

By ALEX DE LEÓN

I knew little about “It” prior to viewing. The basic premise: killer clown. Got it.

Beyond the killer clown, I knew that it was based on a Stephen King novel and that it had previously been adapted in the ‘80s as a movie or television show.

So I headed to the theater as a layman. What I left with was an astounding sense of satisfaction and intrigue.

Audiences looking for a jumpy scare-fest via creepy-ass clown will not be disappointed.

I found myself crushing my girlfriend’s fingers, bracing for the reappearance of Pennywise the clown.

The film centers on a group of six children who are profoundly bonded to each other through trauma and shared tragedy. Enough can’t be said about how well this dynamic works.

Theirs is a familiar image, depicted in movies like “Stand By Me” and “The Sandlot,” but which is in many ways darker and at times heartbreaking.

Each child is a distinct individual with their own motivations, strengths and fears; the latter of which is preyed upon by the clown.

Through them, we are shown an astonishingly complex portrayal of human frailty and the depressingly real shortcomings of people.

The experience might be overly ponderous, if not for some wickedly funny comic relief, mostly in the form of juvenile mom jokes and typically boyish put-downs.

The movie does use the common, and in my opinion, cheap, jumping-out-of-the-closet gag.

But more often, and more effective, is the use of bizarre imagery and genuinely inventive set pieces to illicit stomach-churning fright.

“It’s” monsters were surprisingly stark and unsettling.

Argentine director Andrés Muschietti is deft in his execution of monster reveals, opting for longer and eminently more terrifying shots that leave the audience squirming and unconsciously backing up in their seats.

No, it’s not a headshot of reporter De León. Pennywise smirks in the newest rendition of Stephen King’s “It.”

Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgård, is just the right mix of playfully fiendish and downright horrifying.

Details like his anticipatory salivating, chattering teeth, and sub-zero stare give the impression of a hungry animal, stalking, and ultimately devouring its prey.

Skarsgård’s performance is exquisitely weaved into a complex fabric that envelopes, even constricts, viewers on a primal level.

I suspect there are some very pissed off clowns out there who will see their business dry up faster than your mom at a Tupperware party. (Note: use of crass mom joke is homage to “It” humor.)

Finn Wolfhard, who plays Mike in the wildly successful Netflix series “Stranger Things,” is a comedic stand-out and breathes some much needed levity into the situation.

Jaeden Lieberher also shines, more for his dramatic performance than any joke telling. His is the most heart-wrenching story of the film and it is, at times, difficult to watch.

“It” crosses a line and shows things that most Western audiences are unaccustomed to seeing, namely violence against children. It works because it falls in line with the awful reality of child abuse and murder.

The real magic of “It,” though, has nothing to do with a clown.

“Coming of age story” is a cliche phrase when it comes to movies, but it is an inescapable fact that that’s what “It” is really about.

Growing up is hard.

Those adolescent years are punctuated by moments of stinging shame, yearning and loneliness.

Parents, and adults in general, recede to the background and it can feel like it’s you and your friends against the world.

That is exactly what the children in “It” experience.

There is no positive interaction between adults and children in this movie.

The group of six find each other and come to need each other for that which the adults in their lives cannot give them: love.

By the end of the film, their bond is so deeply felt, by them and by the viewer, that it’s difficult not to smile.

What I’m left with is real surprise at how complex “It” is, especially for what is on the face of it, a date-night horror flick meant to give you an excuse to grab your date’s hand.

Instead, what we have is a layered experience that moves us from acute fear to hysterical laughter to mournful sorrow, when a freaky clown movie that didn’t suck would have sufficed.

It also reminds us that some monsters are real and that they walk among us.

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