Grade: B+/A-
2017, 135 min., Color
Warner Bros.
Rated R for violence/horror, bloody images, and for language
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1 widescreen
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos TrueHD
Bonus features: B+ (nice interview with King, great feature on the kids)
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Amazon link

The 2017 reincarnation of It might be rated R, but it was one of those exceptions that under-18s begged their parents to take them to see in theaters. Why? Because that young audience absolutely loves the hit TV series Stranger Things, which pays tribute to ‘80s movies and takes its central structure from It, the Stephen King novel that inspired a popular 1990 TV miniseries before it did this remake.

In It, as in Stranger Things, the plot revolves around a fantastic sci-fi/horror force that is somehow involved in the mysterious disappearances of local children. And in It, as in Stranger Things, a group of pre-teen friends defy parents and secretly try to solve the mystery and stop the disappearances. Not coincidentally, there is one girl and one black boy in this group of bullied kids who band together, just as there was in Stephen King’s novel and TV miniseries.

The book does a much better job of explaining how “It” came to Earth like an asteroid, crashing into the small Maine town of Derry, which King based on his experience living in Bangor. “It” is a shape-shifter who surfaces every 27 years and feeds on children after preying on their fears—one of those fears being clowns, a shape that Pennywise, as the character calls himself, relishes. If you weren’t afraid of clowns before the 2017 version of It, you might be. Bill Skarsgard plays the creepy character with the same kind of unpredictable, hypo-energetic madness that Heath Ledger brought to the role of The Joker in The Dark Knight.

Is it too scary for teens in the same age group as the onscreen heroes? Probably not, if only because the clown and his Shakespearean rompers and Alien-like chompers and quick movements are so over-the-top that your first impulse is to laugh in surprise, rather than scream. The cliché is that the villain has to be big and bold enough to bring out the best in the would-be heroes, and Pennywise gives this young group a chance to shine. As actors and characters they’re as enjoyable to be around as the boys from Stand by Me, which was based on another Stephen King tale.

Viewers who notice such things will find it extra creepy or clever or both that It returns 27 years after that first 1990 adaptation, and high school students who have been exposed to Shirley Jackson’s bizarre short story “The Lottery” may recognize interesting similarities as well. The parents in this town really don’t get all that upset when a child turns up missing. In fact, missing child posters just get papered over by newer disappearances. There’s a crazy sense of resignation at work here, as there was in Jackson’s story. Yet, all of these elements are minor compared to messages about bullying, accepting people for who and what they are, and being supportive of friends even if it means putting yourself at risk. That’s no doubt one of the things that attracts young viewers. This film isn’t just about young teens—despite the R rating, it seems aimed at them.

The whole clown thing gets a bit goofy at times, but director Andy Muscietti is still able to maintain an edge-of-your-seat tension from start to finish. Yes, you wish that there was more in the way of explanation, but as “gotcha” horror films go, this one excels. It will be interesting to see what projects the young actors—Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Wyatt Oleff—turn up in next. Watching them on a fun bonus feature talk about filming makes you realize that their adrenalin was pumping just as much as the audience’s.

But of course none of this matters to teens, who only care about one thing when it comes to horror movies:  Is it scary? Yep, and my teenage daughter would give It an A for that reason alone.

Language: Not quite one swearword per minute, but there’s plenty of foul language here, including f-bombs
Sex: The kids swim in their underwear (Beverly, in her bra and panties) and there are a couple innocent kisses, but the real sex is implied molestation with nothing ever shown
Violence: Pennywise transforms into terrifying things, and at one point toys with a future potential victim by munching on a child’s arm and waving; only one scene is extremely bloody, but some of the more trauma-filled scenes involve a storm-drain attack, a bully cutting his victim, and a rock fight that draws blood; put it this way, there’s a lot of violence, but the whole sci-fi fantasy-horror aspect removes much of it from the realm of reality
Takeaway: The TV miniseries opted to feature both parts of King’s novel, while Muscietti made the right call to create two installments, with Chapter Two announced for 2019 release