It

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Netflix’s Stranger Things clearly owes a real debt to movies like The Goonies, Stand by Me, E.T and to the miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s It. Now this new version of It owes a huge debt to Stranger Things. This film is so similar to that TV show that I think somewhere there must be an American entertainment lawyer, who hasn’t read King’s source novel, wondering if he can put together a plagiarism case. You have a group of kids in an 80s period setting, only one of whom is a girl, riding around on bikes to track down a supernatural beastie after another kid has gone missing. This is a new copy of the copy of the old copy. It’s like if they remade Doc Hollywood and based it on Pixar’s Cars or if they did a new version of The Three Amigos that closely followed the style of Galaxy Quest

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The comparisons aren’t helped by the fact that It shares a cast member with Stranger Things, Finn Wolfhard (who with a superb name like that was destined to become a movie star, but one in the 1930s not now). The other film that this is strongly reminiscent of, again because they have the same influences, is Super 8 but this is not as good as Stranger Things or Super 8. It doesn’t quite have the same strong characters, strength of story and, odd as it is to say this under the circumstances, originality.

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What It does have is a bigger budget and bigger scares, both of which are used to good effect. The film has some really really creepy images and a few well timed jumps. Kindly though what director Andy Muschietti has done is really heavily signpost all of the frightening bits with oppressive lights and music so that the film actually has very few surprises at all. This certainly makes it much easier to watch because if they’d sprung some of this stuff on me I might have had a heart attack. As it is I didn’t find my heart rate rising at all. Well not much. (Others in the cinema did not seem to be having such an easy ride yet I’m not normally hardened to this sort of thing. Daniel Radcliffe’s Woman in Black film terrified me.)

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Pennywise the clown, the monster at the heart of proceedings is an effective spook and is able to use his ghostly CGI powers to contort himself into all sorts of disturbing shapes. I do think in this case more is less though. He isn’t as unsettling as he was when Tim Curry played him twenty seven years ago. Curry just looked like a regular clown and as coulrophobics all over the world will tell you, that is freaky enough. Even for those of us that don’t have a strong aversion to jovial circus performers though, the idea of something seeming benevolent suddenly mutating and turning supernaturally murderous is really upsetting. For those of you that don’t remember, or have never seen it, go on to YouTube and check out clips of Curry’s performance. It is very very unnerving. Bill Skarsgård’s portrayal looks evil the whole time and like all movie monsters, the more you look at him the less freaky he becomes.

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In many respects the ghost story is the least interesting aspect of this film. What is compelling is the adolescent heroes. All of the kids are great. You’ve got the round faced one from Stranger Things (as mentioned), the littlun from Midnight Special, young Peter Quill, a fresh faced Fred Savage-a-like, a less abrasive version of Chunk from The Goonies, mini Sidney Poitier and Sophia Lillis who is absolutely the Millie Bobby Brown/Elle Fanning of the group (expect big things from her). This gang’s interactions, if not as charming as we’ve seen from other ensembles of teen monster hunters, is absolutely the heart of the movie. See it for the boys and girls, not the boos and ghouls.

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It has been a huge box office success and it largely deserves it. It is well performed, atmospheric, engaging and often funny but it is only really serving as a stop gap until the next season of Stranger Things comes out next month. Maybe when it comes back in another three decades it will less derivative of better things derived from its derivation.

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Is this one for the kids?
It is perfect for strong stomached 15+s but it’s an absolute no no for anyone else.

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The Ripley Factor:
As mentioned, Sophia Lillis who plays troubled but courageous teen Beverly is totally the star of the film. Her performance is really strong and there is more life to her character than the rest of the boys. Each of the kids is forced to face their darkest fear during the story and most of them are worried about things like lepers, headless zombies and dead siblings. Beverly’s greatest fear though seems to be her own development into adulthood which is so much deeper. It isn’t over played but when you consider why this is it is potentially the most upsetting aspect of the whole film. She has demons to face beyond the demon they have to face. So good is Lillis that she lifts what in some places is actually a bit of a generic part. To say much more would be a spoiler but if you are familiar with what often happens with initially strong female characters surrounded by males then this pretty much follows the tropes.

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Don’t worry feminist friends, she doesn’t do that thing she does in the book.

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