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Front Page - Friday, September 15, 2017

Critic's Corner: Will ‘It’ scare you? Sure, but it offers viewers much more

“It,” the new movie based on the 1986 novel by Stephen King, is everything a film based on the book should be.

It bathes viewers in warm rays of nostalgia. It hums with the constant threat of a lurking horror. Its characters feel like real people but the true nature of its monster is left unexplained.

Yes, Pennywise the Dancing Clown is all smiles until he’s all razor-sharp teeth, dripping with saliva stirred by an unnatural hunger, but what exactly is he? King’s novel offers an explanation, but the movie, which is based on only half the book, doesn’t.

I admire the restraint. Viewers like things to be explained. They don’t like peering into a dark closet and wondering what’s in there. But aren’t the scariest monsters the ones our imaginations summon as we’re peering into shadows?

“It” is also everything a horror movie fan could want. It fills the screen – to its very edges – with the gory, chilling, sinister details of King’s writing.

Nothing is safe or sacred – not even an arm attached to a 7-year-old boy. Such was necessary for Pennywise to be as threatening as he looks.

Lastly, “It” is everything someone who loves a good film could want. Granted, some people (including a few I know) have no interest in horror and will not see this. I feel a little bad about them missing a movie built on a skillfully adapted screenplay, direction by a capable filmmaker and wonderful performances by young actors.

If you love films but not horror, consider giving “It” five minutes. If you can make it through the first scene, which serves as a microcosm of everything that’s to come, then you can weather the whole movie.

“It” begins with the elated laughter of a young boy as he chases a paper boat along a river of curb water during a rainstorm. Then there’s the sudden appearance of Pennywise in a sewer.

I could feel the back of my throat tightening as the creature, which looks like a nightmarish clown, baits the child with talk of a lost circus and warm, buttery popcorn in the bowels of the neighborhood. Then its mouth opens wide to reveal the nine levels of Hell and ...

On second thought, maybe you should skip it. But I still say you’re missing out.

“It” is set in Derry, Maine, where the titular monster awakens every 27 years to feed on the town’s children. The film follows seven of his victims during one summer of horror.

Before eating any meat, though, Pennywise likes to salt it with fear. Thus, in the process of battling the creature, each kid faces his or her personal demons.

To a young germaphobe, the creature takes on the guise of a plague-ridden corpse; to a girl who’s experiencing her first period, he appears as a geyser of blood bursting out of a bathroom sink. Her father, drawn by her screams, opens the door and sees clean walls.

What a great group of kids King fashioned. And what fine work the three credited screenwriters did carrying the ensemble over to the movie. I felt transported back to my childhood and the friends I knew, the girls I fell for, the bullies I hated – the whole nine yards.

I even had a friend who was every bit as vulgar as Richie. One of the achievements of this adaptation of “It” is the way it perfectly captures the wonder, innocent and fears of adolescence.

Director Andy Muschietti, who introduced himself to the world with the effective horror chiller “Mama” in 2013, so seamlessly stitched these elements to the scary bits that I barely noticed the transitions.

I also like the way Muschietti captured the lovingly crafted sets (especially Pennywise’s creepy, twisted house) and the groups of kids with wide shots and a steady camera.

Other noteworthy aspects of “It” include the excellent job casting the actors. From Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise to all the kids, everyone is terrific.

I also will not soon forget the makeup applied to Skarsgård to bring Pennywise to life. It’s reminiscent of the look created for Tim Curry in the 1990 ABC miniseries adapted from the King novel, but it does a better job of blending the playful elements of the clown with the creature’s inhumane, sociopathic nature.

It’s what I see now when I peer into the shadows.

3.5 out of 4 stars