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With: Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgard, Nicholas Hamilton, Jake Sim, Logan Thompson, Owen Teague, Jackson Robert Scott, Stephen Bogaert, Stuart Hughes, Geoffrey Pounsett, Pip Dwyer, Mollie Jane Atkinson, Steven Williams
Written by: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman, based on a novel by Stephen King
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
MPAA Rating: R for violence/horror, bloody images, and for language
Running Time: 135
Date: 09/08/2017

It (2017)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Clown Loaded

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Based on Stephen King's much-loved 1986 novel, the new movie It, opening Friday in Bay Area theaters, is ostensibly about scary clowns, but is really about fear itself.

Many modern horror movies are simple gory slashers and ghost stories filled with jump-scares. However, there are scarier things, more primal things, the things of nightmares.

Sometimes a picture on a wall can give someone the creeps.

It gets its power to produce actual spine-tingles from these images, not necessarily from the fear of a machete-wielding killer, but things that are coming to get you.

More than that, the movie is powered by its cast of misfit kids, roughly 13 years of age, sexually curious/confused, experimenting with swear words, and finding power in numbers.

It is set in the summer of 1989, with A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 5 playing at the local cinema of Derry, Maine, and it very deliberately recalls The Goonies — one kid even carries an asthma inhaler — and Stand by Me, which was also based on a King story.

A drugstore heist or a swim at the quarry could easily have been lifted from any normal coming-of-age movie, like The Sandlot or The Kings of Summer.

Just about anyone who was ever a misfit can love these kids, feel like a part of their little group.

To further capture the mood, Finn Wolfhard from Netflix's great series Stranger Things is on board as the scene-stealing loudmouth, Coke-bottle-spectacled Richie Tozier.

But then director Andy Muschietti sends in the clowns. Muschietti previously made the uneven horror hit Mama, and took over for the talented, Bay Area-born Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre, Jane Eyre, and Beasts of No Nation), who retains a screenwriting credit.

Nonetheless, Muschietti turns in good, scary work, with a slick combination of practical and digital effects. Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard) is a real person in makeup, but also moves in a most chillingly inhuman way.

It begins with a truly nightmare-inducing sequence, familiar to many, as little Georgie chases his cardboard boat down a rainy street. It slips into the sewer and into the creepy hands of the waiting clown.

It's up to older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) and friends to stop the evil. The kids are terrific, and it would not be surprising if they all went on to bigger (if not stranger) things, especially the Molly Ringwald-like Sophia Lillis as the budding Beverly Marsh.

Viewers should be warned that this epic It is only chapter one, and more terror is planned, though it will have big, puffy, shoes to fill.

The 2018 Blu-ray release from Warner Home Video is superb, with a very nice gradation of darks and lights, and all the spooky sounds and music preserved with bold clarity. Extras include three featurettes and deleted scenes as well as a selection of trailers at startup. It also includes a bonus DVD and a digital copy.

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