It"

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I missed "It," based on Stephen King's ultra-popular novel about a clown killer when it was initially released in theaters because I was covering the Toronto International Film Festival. After storming the box-office hit, $300M domestically and counting, and being fairly well-reviewed, I finally caught up with this peculiar film, which has captured the Zeitgeist more than any other R rated movie in recent years.

Andrés Muschietti directs the reboot, he did a pretty good job with the tepid material in 2013's "Mama." That's the only other film he's directed, the top-notch photography of "Mama" doesn't seem to be a fluke as it's back here again. "It" looks beautifully realized from top to bottom. 

"It" is a Horror, coming-of-age film which is heavily inspired by 1980s coming of age films such as "The Goonies." It comes to us just after the recent Netflix phenomenon "Stranger Things," which reinvigorated that nostalgic genre for a new generation of audiences.  If you haven't seen the original TV Mini-series or read the novel, the film is about a group of children living a boring middle America life in Derry, Maine. The dullness soon changes when they start being terrorized by Pennywise the clown. 

Bill Skarsgard plays Pennywise in such frightening and convincing ways. Every scene he's in works and, to build tension with the audience, Muschietti barely gives him that many on-screen minutes.  Wise decision, Pennywise's shadow looms in every frame of this film, the less you see of him the more horrified you are by his impending presence. 

More importantly, the child actors are quite great (Jaden Lieberher Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, Chosen Jacobs, Nicholas Hamilton, and Jackson Robert Scott). It's always a risky proposition having children as your lead actors, it's happened so many times that bad child acting ended up turning you off as you were watching a movie, but what must have been, I'm sure, a tough casting process has given way to young actors that are seriously convincing. They make up "The losers club," a group they create in order to fight the bullies around them and create their own present-day high school life.

The scares Muschietti delivers are surprisingly low-key, more built-up on tension and atmosphere than any real gore. In fact, the scenes with the bullies are just as hard to watch as any of the clown stuff, which means the director has infused enough humanism in the story to make us care for these characters. If anything, the gripe many "horror" fans might have with "It" is that it isn't scary enough, but that's why I liked it. When the scares do happen you appreciate them more because Muschietti has taken his time to build up the characters to make you care and feel when the outcome happens.

When the horrors do come, they do earn their R-rating. In order to end the clown's terrorizing, the kids have to confront pennywise in the sewer he lives in. The set-piece, which has beautifully rendered set design, is the highlight of the film. Muschietti infuses a dreamy surrealism to the last few minutes in the sewers, there's dread but there's also the sense that this is helmed by a real director who knows what he's doing. Muschietti's entertaining film might be a nostalgia-fest, but it earns extra points for the care in details that went into making such a watchable story about a killer clown. [B]
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