The circle will not be broken. And it has become a perfect circle.
When Stephen King’s novel It was published in 1986 he’d already been working on the idea for eight years. In the meantime, films that depicted young teens as protagonists on bikes had come and gone — Goonies (1985) and E.T the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), to name two.
More recently, the popular Netflix series Stranger Things depicted a group of kids riding their unique handlebar bikes through a story set in the 1980s. Stranger Things unwinds like a milkshake with ingredients that include the camaraderie from Goonies mixed with a strong King influence.
So it’s no surprise that It presents its main cast of seven kids as avenging angels who travel on two wheels. The story takes place in Derry, Maine in 1989. The antagonist represents pure evil.
Scene after scene depicts our heroes riding from location to location on their bikes and hopping off said bikes and letting them fall to the ground — except for one of the gang who uses his kick stand in a compulsive way. It gets a big laugh, which is a relief because much of It seems bent on goose-bump-up-the spine chills.
Events start out at maximum macabre as a young boy chases a homemade boat down a flooding curb during a rainstorm only to watch the craft disappear into a sewer. When he reaches into the sewer opening he meets a clown named Pennywise.
Pennywise smiles when he talks, revealing a set of buck teeth that would easily fit on Bugs Bunny. The smile becomes gruesome when Pennywise bites off one of the boy’s arms and drags him to his death.
As much as typical King motifs pop up — supernatural horror, rustic Maine setting, victimization and bullying — so does the production entity Warner Brothers loom large. Goonies and Bugs are both Warner properties. A movie marquee seen throughout It has Batman, PG-13 and Lethal Weapon 2, R-rating, as a double-bill. Both films are from Warner Brothers and both were released within a two-week window in 1989.
It demands to be released as R-rated: There are so many F-bombs from the mouths of babes that you wonder if Tarantino did an uncredited polish on the script.
It stands to become the new WB moneymaker. Positioned after a summer that included Wonder Woman and Dunkirk and wedged firmly between the November release of Justice League (Nov. 17), It seems likely to become the first domestic film released in September to gross over $100-million in the same month.
Movie metric aside, does It earn its scares and frights? Yes and no.
Mood counts a lot more in this film than select peek-a-boo moments. We’ve already seen the ultimate room-filling-up-with-blood shot in The Shining, so a similar scene in It set in a bathroom helps progress the story. But doesn’t impress with originality. Likewise, Pennywise chasing one lad through a library basement, or in another moment popping out of a screen literally larger than life and terrorizing the viewers, earns chops for good editing and camera work rather than actually freaking out the audience.
However, It’s best scenes are propelled by atmosphere and humor. When the six boys who stand between life and death are standing in their underwear on a hill over a swimming hole debating who should jump in first, out of the wood bursts the distaff member of their group, also in her underwear, and jumping feet first into the gorge.
All of the characters, good and bad and young and old, are carefully delineated. But the standouts are Jaeden Lieberher (also seen in the recent underrated Book of Henry) and newcomer Sophia Lillis as Beverly. These two teen actors will become familiar faces based no doubt on their charismatic turns in It.
Perhaps not oddly, one of the other kids (Finn Wolfhard), a member of the Losers posse, also appears in Stranger Things, while Jeremy Ray Taylor, the overweight kid whom the local bully calls “Tits,” has more of an initial romantic relationship going with Bev, but in the end his kisses don’t matter.
It is only the first chapter in a proposed franchise that promises to examine the history of violence in Derry, Maine. As long as clowns are creepy, this series will thrive.
“It” opens wide this weekend.