State-of-the-art gris­li­ness

In­sa­tiable, in­ter-di­men­sional preda­tor even more un­nerv­ing

The Herald (South Africa) - - LEISURE -

(8) IT. Directed by: An­dres Muschi­etti. Star­ring: Bill Skars­gård, Jae­den Lieber­her, Sophia Lil­lis, Finn Wolfhard, Jeremy Ray Tay­lor. Re­viewed by: Tim Robey.

OF ALL the grimly iconic images Stephen King can be cred­ited with think­ing up – those slaugh­tered sis­ters in

The Shin­ing, the pig’s-blood del­uge in Car­rie – there’s one that stands out as so evilly night­mar­ish, so plain wrong, it’s ac­tively hard to watch. It’s the sight of an in­no­cent young boy, Ge­orgie, be­ing dragged into a storm drain by a child-eat­ing clown – the name’s Pen­ny­wise – and never seen, or at least not in liv­ing form, again.

What­ever warped part of King’s imag­i­na­tion poor Ge­orgie’s fate in the 1986 novel It sprang from, the line-cross­ing hor­ror of the idea is hideous enough to have pow­ered two sep­a­rate adap­ta­tions: first the

Warn­ers mini-se­ries in 1990, star­ring an un­for­get­table Tim Curry, and now a two-part film ver­sion.

The big­gest change is what’s been done to the pe­riod, which has jumped for­ward three decades.

In­stead of be­gin­ning with Ge­orgie’s dis­ap­pear­ance in 1960, we’re in the sum­mer of 1988, which is roughly when the present-day, all-adults-now sec­ond half of King’s story orig­i­nally took place.

This lets the new It buy into the cur­rent vogue for Eight­ies teen-flick nos­tal­gia, pre­vi­ously es­tab­lished with the likes of Su­per 8 and Stranger Things. Ex­pect a Molly Ring­wald joke and much tootling around the fic­tional Maine vil­lage of Derry on bikes, as Ge­orgie’s older brother Bill (Jae­den Lieber­her) and six friends try to get to the bot­tom of the name­less evil af­flict­ing their com­mu­nity, which has suf­fered a spate of un­ex­plained child ab­duc­tions ever since Ge­orgie got sucked into that sewer.

Andy Muschi­etti’s film has a lot to whip through in just over two hours, even though this one is only tack­ling half the book – bear in mind that the whole thing clocked in at a gru­el­ing 1 138 pages.

Ev­ery one of the “Losers’ Club” – that’s Bill and his co­horts – is separately men­aced by the thing they most fear, as well as be­ing more straight­for­wardly per­se­cuted by a group of older school bul­lies.

As a vi­sion of vi­o­lence and de­prav­ity in small-town Amer­ica, King’s book hardly pulled its punches: there’s a sub­plot about do­mes­tic child abuse, let­ters be­ing carved into a fat boy’s stom­ach, ra­cial as­saults against the lone black kid (Cho­sen Ja­cobs) and so on.

But this is very much a ring-thechanges up­date with ramped-up set pieces and state-of-the-art gris­li­ness to match. Muschi­etti, who made his de­but with the Guillermo del Toro­pro­duced chiller Mama (2013), makes the most of ev­ery new ap­pari­tion at his dis­posal, un­leash­ing them all to do their bit with sta­dium-rock swag­ger.

Dif­fer­ing from the more 1950s-themed ghouls in ei­ther the book or mini-se­ries, they lunge for­ward at their in­tended vic­tims with de­ranged Modigliani faces, or rot­ting ones, or none at all.

Ev­ery one of them is just an al­terego for the shape-shift­ing Pen­ny­wise, an in­sa­tiable, in­ter­di­men­sional preda­tor whose prac­ti­cally mo­tive­less evil re­mains ev­ery bit as un­nerv­ing as it was when Curry played him.

This time, the role falls to Bill Skars­gård – son of Stel­lan, brother of True Blood’s Alexan­der – speak­ing with a rogue Swedish ac­cent that only adds to the skil­ful grotes­querie of his per­for­mance. He’s helped, it’s true, by a more ex­treme make-up job – child­ishly ma­lign and goofy in the mouth, where Curry chilled the mar­row with just a bland smile over ra­zor-sharp yel­low teeth.

Work­ing with a far big­ger bud­get, the ef­fects team al­low this Pen­ny­wise to con­tort him­self im­pos­si­bly as he un­furls his bulk from a dis­used fridge, or emerges from the body of a dead boy.

All round, he’s a very suc­cess­ful rein­ven­tion of a clas­sic vil­lain, not quite do­ing all the film’s work as com­mand­ingly as Curry, but ab­so­lutely stok­ing your dread of his next ap­pear­ance. The gut-grab­bing in­ten­sity of the film’s at­tack scenes, if any­thing, causes a prob­lem: it cre­ates a devil of a time build­ing flow. Th­ese episodes are so in­di­vid­u­ally fright­en­ing that the chirpier in­ter­sti­tial parts, with their stabs at comic relief, don’t gel – it’s as if th­ese ter­rorised kids keep for­get­ting the nerve-shred­ding sights they’ve seen mo­ments be­fore.

Ty­ing their ad­ven­tures to­gether into a po­tent whole, at this point, is slightly be­yond Muschi­etti’s pow­ers.

Per­haps Muschi­etti has more stored up for the se­quel, once an au­di­ence has gained faith that the scary stuff – pet­ri­fy­ing, when it peaks – is well and truly in hand.

CLAS­SIC REIN­VEN­TION: A more ex­treme make-up job adds to the skil­ful grotes­querie of Bill Skars­gård’s per­for­mance as Pen­ny­wise

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