This new adaptation of Stephen King’s seminal horror novel It moves the events of the story into the 80s. The setup remains the same, however: a shapeshifting demonic presence is terrorizing the children of the town of Derry, Maine. Thirteen-year-old Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), whose little brother was one of the children that went missing, leads a group of a friends that stumble on to the truth about the disappearances in their town. When it becomes clear that they’re the only ones that seem to want to do anything about it, they decide to take on the evil themselves.The movie is faithful up to a point: it does as much as it can to get the broad strokes of the plot in, but cuts out much of the stranger, more out-there elements of the novel. The move to the late 80s doesn’t actually change things all that much, apart from the kind of references that the kids end up making in the film. It does prove to be somewhat of a hurdle in establishing a tone for the film, which indulges a bit too much in the easy comedy of referencing the New Kids on the Block. It is endearing to an extent, but doesn’t really serve the narrative in compelling ways.It can all feel a little uneven, the movie’s approach to nostalgia not quite meshing with the darkness to come. And while cutting back on the elements of the novel is understandable, it at times feels like the movie is oversimplifying things, turning the characters into exposition machines that will make bad choices in service of plot. Having said that, when the movie is on, it’s on. The film largely eschews the jumps scares of modern horror in favor of a monstrous intensity. The film never quite crafts a sequence as powerful as its opening bit, but it puts together quite a few nightmarish images on its way to its conclusion.The film exhibits a flair for monster design. In spite of a generous sprinkling of computer generated imagery, the film seems committed to creating tactile, palpable threats for its characters. It effectively conveys the danger of rows of teeth and icky ooze and torrents of blood. And then there’s Pennywise, who gets a pretty sinister makeover. The film seems to take great pleasure in contorting the already-unsettling clown into horrific shapes, but it gets just as much mileage from simpler touches. The way the film depicts the clown’s movement ends up being one of its most effective tricks.The movie understands, however, that the horror of the story lies not only in the literal monster. And there is value in the way it depicts the casual and often overt abuse perpetrated by the adults in this story. It makes clear that these kids are essentially alone to deal with this threat, their parents unnervingly distant and prone to terrible acts. Great casting furthers the film’s appeal. Jaeden Liberher makes for a solid and affecting lead. Sophia Lillis is the right mix of tough and vulnerable. But it’s Finn Wolfhard who really runs away with this film playing the wisecracking Richie Tozier. The Stranger Things star displays a different side here, and proves to be pretty magnetic.It doesn’t get everything right. Its references to the era, for example, start to feel like empty pandering past a certain point. And while it is easy enough to recognize that some things had to be culled in order to make this story work for the big screen, there is still a sense that the movie oversimplifies at times, sabotaging its own horror mechanics in the process. But those hiccups don’t really negate the power of the movie. It mostly hits where it counts, taking the best parts of this story and using it generate all manner of nightmare fuel.
IT IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE