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TheMoviegoer: It

Killer clowns and childhood traumas populate this fearsome thriller

© New Line Cinema/ Children in a Maine town band together to fight a murderous clown named Pennywise.
     In the sleepy town of Derry, Maine, six-year-old Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott: Fear the Walking Dead) goes out to play in the rain and is never seen again. It should be shocking, but Derry’s children tend to disappear.
     Georgie’s older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher: The Book of Henry), isn’t so quick to forget. Bill has the support of his friends, the self-dubbed Losers’ Club, a ragtag band of 11-year-olds who are mercilessly harassed in school. Instead of hiding from the psychotic bullies who gleefully assault them, the Losers’ Club searches for Georgie and the other missing children.
     As they dig into the odd violent history of Derry, the kids experience terrifying visions tailored to their individual deepest fears. The commonality is a horrifying clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård: Atomic Blonde). 
     A horror movie about the terrors of childhood and facing your fears, It is a more successful story than either its previous miniseries adaptation or the novel by juggernaut Stephen King. Director Andy Muschietti (Mama) pared down King’s story to the essence. Fans of the novel will find no mystical rituals or multi-dimensional philosophy. They will find children who conquer an impossible threat by embracing some very grown-up concepts.
     King’s fans won’t be wholly disappointed. Muschietti mines all the best elements of the novel. He has preserved King’s funny, realistic dynamic between the kids. These are not brave heroes; they’re children who can barely deal with the pressures of junior high, let alone stop a killer clown. Other famous King tropes, such as psychotic bullies and comically absent parents, remain, as does King’s favorite setting, Derry.
     Muschietti also wisely avoids a non-stop thrill ride, giving us lots of story and character moments so we care about the protagonists. This strategy makes the film a little less terrifying but serves the story beautifully. 
     The cast is absolutely excellent. The Losers are a crackerjack ensemble of child actors, each able to carry a scene with panache. Standouts include Lieberher, Sophia Lillis (The Garden) and Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things), all of whom light up the screen whether they’re throwing out one-liners or having a tearful breakdown. 
     As Pennywise, Skarsgård had not only to terrify viewers but also overcome the iconic performance of Tim Curry, who originated the role. Up for the challenge, Skarsgård makes Georgie’s abduction one of the creepiest scenes put on film this year. 
     If you’re a fan of Stephen King, It should suit you. If clowns leave you cold, you’ll probably react like my mother, who was bored. Hi, mom! 
Prospects: Good Horror • R • 135 mins.
New this Week
American Assassin 
     To avenge his girlfriend, who was murdered in a terror attack, Mitch (Dylan O’Brien) joins the CIA, becoming a promising black ops candidate. 
     Mitch’s real test is grizzled CIA trainer Stan Hurly (Michael Keaton), as they work together to stop a worldwide wave of terror attacks.
     Based on the bestselling novel by Vince Flynn, American Assassin is a geopolitical thriller with a fairly good pedigree. Director Michael Cuesta is excellent at creating tension, and Michael Keaton can lift the material above typical thriller fare. 
     But both O’Brien and villain Taylor Kitsch are rather blank canvasses when it comes to performance. The movie’s success may depend on your tolerance for pretty men with limited acting range. 
Prospects: Flickering • R • 111 mins. 
     The seemingly idyllic existence of Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and Him (Javier Bardem) is shattered when a stranger (Ed Harris) asks to spend the night. Mother is against the idea, but Him agrees readily. 
     With a new person in the home, the cracks between Mother and Him are exposed. 
     Filled with visual metaphors and pomp, director Darren Aronofsky’s movies are challenging. It’s up to actors Lawrence, Bardem, Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer to make a human connection.
Prospects: Flickering • R • 121 mins.