There’s a covered wooden bridge, a stony brook and a quarry where the kids can go swimming.
Historic buildings line the tree-shaded streets, where the traffic’s so light a child can ride his or her bike right down the road without worrying about being hit by a car.
But the adults are pedophiles, trigger-happy thugs and textbook cases of Munchausen by Proxy. The high school is overrun with monstrous mean girls, and gangs of knife-wielding psychopathic bullies.
Children keep disappearing. And in Stephen King’s nightmarish Derry, Maine, there’s one certain thing in life. A child can call for help, and no one will notice.
King’s “It” comes to the big screen as the most horrific vision of childhood since “Schindler’s List.” Forget the killer clown, Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) who lures kids to their doom. There’s already enough going on in this scenic hellhole to make you wonder how anybody gets out of here alive.
That deep-seeded childhood terror — that there’s a threat, and no adult will listen to your warnings — drives “It,” an otherwise somewhat taxing tale of killer clowns, vivid, bloody visions and a small town with a sewer system to rival any NFL city in the US.
Because that’s where Pennywise the Dancing Clown lives, dragging children like innocent Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) to his gruesome death in the film’s opening moments. His disappearance haunts his stuttering older brother, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher of “St. Vincent” and “The Book of Henry”).
Bill eggs on his fellow “losers,” the most picked-upon 14 year-olds in town — mouthy Richie (Finn Wolfhard), asthmatic hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and the timid rabbi’s son, Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) — into helping him search for his long-missing brother over summer vacation.
But it isn’t until portly “New Kid” and New Kid on the Block fan Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) shows up and shares his “research” into this town’s blood-stained history, and the harassed but mature redhead Beverly (Sophia Lillis) joins up, that it all comes together.
“I’m sorry. WHO invited Molly Ringwald?”
It’s 1988 and kids all over Derry are seeing satanically spectral paintings of flutists come to life, blood and bile pour out of sinks, haunted houses and haunted meat-lockers — all orchestrated by the balloon-toting clown.
The visions are grim, grisly and graphic, although actual hair-raising moments are rare — a chase here, a narrow escape there.
Director Andy Muschietti (“Mama”) keeps the violence lurid and shocking, interrupted by moments of often-profane gallow’s humor.
The film lays bare King’s tropes — a haunted house straight out of a theme park — and paint-by-numbers outline — a collection of “types” challenged by the sum of their fears (How “Nightmare on Elm Street” of him). The fat kid, the stutterer, the coward, the cute girl with the ugly reputation, the sassy, oversexed Jew, the black kid (Chosen Jacobs) learning to slaughter sheep, mullet-wearing punks in a Trans Am.
It’s “Goonies” meets “Stand By Me” with a killer clown after them all. If King was word-processing this today he’d have treated us to a gay boy and a trans girl, no doubt.
But his version of Hell, small-town Maine, has never been more vivid and terrifying. The first hour of the movie, dominated by kid-on-kid violence and ugly, inattentive adults, is jaw-dropping in its brutality.
“This summer’s gonna be a HURT train!”
And if the acting’s a trifle uneven, the middle acts dull and the ending drawn-out, violent and almost nonsensical, the latest Skarsgard (another son of Stellan) to don makeup is a clown to overwhelm your nightmares, a red-nosed monster that may not be original (King rarely is), but plays as definitive — the last word on why those among us mortally afraid of the guys with the huge shoes, red wigs and greasepainted faces may have a point.
MPAA Rating: R for violence/horror, bloody images, and for language
Credits: Directed by Andy Muschietti, script by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gar Dauberman, based on the Stephen King novel. A Warner Brothers release.
Running time: 2:15