Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Review - IT - Secret Seven intimidated by a clown in Derry (from 8 September)

The premise of Stephen King’s novel IT is that a shape-shifting monster with a penchant for red balloons and a clown face awakens every 27 years and feeds off children in the fictional town of Derry (Maine) for a few months before hibernating once more.

In this latest cinematic adaptation of IT, it little Georgie dressed in distinctive yellow rain coat sails a paper boat down the torrent of water streaming down the side of his street in a heavy storm. When the boat slips into a drain in the side of the pavement he comes face to face with a clown – standing up in the storm drain with white greasepaint face and wearing a ruff but seemingly not getting wet despite the water flowing in – and soon he’s the first of this year’s goners.

IT is set in the late 1980s, when boys wore poloneck jumpers (turtlenecks or skivvies if you live further afield) and clipped bum bags (fanny packs) around their waists. An era of crazy plumbing, flickering lights, flooded basements and swimming in the river.

When the school holidays begin four uncool boys – for it is the nerds, the vulnerable, abused and bullied that Pennywise the Dancing Clown (aka ‘It’) most likes to chew the life out of – decide to get to the bottom of what happened to little Georgie. Over the film’s generous runtime of 135 minutes the original Derry wans (Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer and Wyatt Oleff) are joined by another three less-than-intrepid adventurers to form a ‘Secret Seven’ club who discard their bicycles in the middle of the road before running inside abandoned properties.

The three late additions to the group have the most interesting backstories and characters. Sophia Lillis plays Beverly, the sole female member of the crew. Her steely performance as a tom boy living with her abusive father brings to life the most engaging and least stereotypical character. Her ‘fountain of blood’ scene is gross and beautifully executed. Chosen Jacobs plays Mike, another outsider in the majority white New England community, who learns to assert himself over the summer of clowning about while the poetic Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is permanently scarred by a knife and someone else steeling the apple of his eye.

Billed as horror, IT really falls into the ‘tiresome’ category of film. The soundtrack is much more menacing than any of the visuals and gives observant cinemagoers at least 30 seconds warning of any surprises that lurk around the corner. If you want actual jump scares, go and see Annabelle: Creation [review] which is still being screened and is genuinely seat-lifting despite its poor plot.

Part of the reason that the fear factor is dialled down may be that It – played by Bill SkarsgĂ„rd – appears in so many different guises, customised for each unwitting victim and suffers from a real melange of direction (that in one scene freezes the action of everyone else in the room) which distracts from the raw terror supposed to be on show.

All this leaves a 15+ audience sitting watching a live action version of ghost-hunting Scooby Doo, complete with haunted house and added menace supplied by an implied molester (unsettlingly Beverley’s father played by Stephen Bogaert seems to be modelled on the cleaner from Scrubs), an older teenage gang who are racist and sizeist, and enough blood to make the Blood Transfusion Service weep.

How would you kill a clown? Obviously with some really bad jokes, though despite young Richie’s best attempts (played by Finn Wolfhard) that only has the effect of making Belfast cinema audiences titter at his poor school boy attempts at innuendo.

Telling one half of the story – the early years – of Stephen King’s novel, this new film version of IT sanitises elements of the original plot that might otherwise have pushed the certificate up to 18.

Director Andy Muschietti has inherited a screenplay and made an overly long sweary teen adventure which doesn’t contain the twists and turns to deserve any more than 100 minutes of screen time. I’m no fan of scary films, but IT fails to play on audience paranoia and doesn’t gradually up the level of fear throughout the film.

Which leaves IT clowning around with the horror genre in a rather unsatisfactory way.

IT is released on Friday 8 September with midnight screamings screenings at Movie House cinemas as well as other venues.

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