IT (2017)

Rated R. Running time:  1 hour 28 min.

Our content ratings: Violence 8; Language 6; Sex/Nudity 5.

Our star rating (1-5): 4


For the evil have no future; the lamp of the wicked will go out.

Proverbs 24:20

Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone?

And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one.

A threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:11-12

The Losers watch some old slides as part of their research into their town’s lurid past.      (c) New Line Cinema

I have not read Steven King’s 1986 novel, nor have I seen the TV miniseries aired in the 90s, so viewing director Andy Muschietti’s film was a fresh experience for me. It was truly a creepy experience, sort of a blending of Stand By Me with a typical shocker, such as an episode from Nightmare on Elm Street. Muschietti does a wonderful job of bringing out the best from his ensemble cast of young actors, who make up the outsider kids who call themselves “The Losers.”

Losers they are, both in the ordinary world of their school in small-town Derry Maine and in the mysterious, scarifying world that is either a product of their deeply disturbed psyches or an impinging supernatural world.

The story begins in the late 80s (the time moved forward from the novel’s 50s) with the adolescent Bill making and giving little brother Georgie a paper sailboat. The boy puts on his yellow rain slicker and runs outside to set it afloat in the rain-filled curb gutter. He chases after it as the vessel drifts swiftly down the stream and disappears into a storm sewer. Upset, Georgie kneels to peer into the darkness in the hope of retrieving his treasure. Suddenly staring back at him is the painted face of a clown, beckoning to him as he smiles malevolently. As the film unreels, we will learn that the sewer dweller is named Pennywise (Peter Skarsgard), and his purpose is not harmless entertainment.

Pennywise is truly a creepy villain! (c) New Line Cinema

Weeks go by as the Denbrough family accepts the assumption that their youngest child is dead—all that is, but guilt-ridden Bill who clings to the hope that his brother is somewhere alive in Derry’s ancient and intricate sewer system. From time to time we see an adult put up another “Child Missing” poster on a telephone pole. A year later, and Bill still hopes to find his brother with the help of his friends.

Along with the stuttering Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), the Losers consist of Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), in frail health and thus frequently using his inhaler to breathe; Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), an African American whose parents died in a fire; Richie (Finn Walthard), a foul-mouthed wisecracker; and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), son of the town’s rabbi. Latecomers to the gang are chubby Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the new kid at school, and Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis). The latter, the Loser’s only girl is rejected by the other girls at school because of unfair rumors that she is promiscuous.

Beverly’s tomboy qualities make her easily acceptable to the members of the Losers, but it is her unfamiliar sex that makes her an object of fascination for them, especially evident in the delightful swimming hole scene. The boys have shed all their clothes but their briefs, and Beverly has done likewise, her two-piece set of underwear revealing as much of the female body as the curious boys had ever seen. All the boys enjoy their first relationship with a girl, and two of them harbor dreams of an even closer bond. A delightful visual touch shows the friends joined in a circle. On the cast of the boy with a broken arm “Losers” has been printed, but now a V has been printed over the S.

The creepiness of the town is emphasized in the scene in which a gang of high school bullies led by Henry Bowes (Nicholas Hamilton) attack Ben on a bridge. A car driven by an adult couple slowly passes by, but even though it is clear what is going on, the adults simply stare as the car continues on. In Stephen King’s world adult s are not care givers—they are either almost entirely absent in the kids’ world, or they are threats to their well-being.

Ben often finds refuge in the town library, where he learns from the newspaper archives that every 27 years Pennywise shows up to kill and eat children. The Losers obtain maps of the sewers and begin to figure out where they might find the malevolent clown as they enter a pact to find and kill him. In several scenes we see that some of them also are in peril from their own parents, especially Beverly whose father has an unhealthy interest in her body. The adolescents’ bond grows closer when they all can see what outsiders cannot, such as the blood spattered all over the bathroom in Beverly’s house. Pennywise seems to know what each kid fears the most and plays upon that fear to intimidate and lure the kid to himself.

Best part of the film, other than that swim scene at the town quarry, is the depiction of the kids discovering that they must work together as a team if they are to survive. They are weak while alone, but together they are strong, as the author of Ecclesiastes observed many centuries ago.

The action and time in this film are contained in the flashbacks of the novel, so there are more encounters between Pennywise and the Losers to come in a sequel. Later when the group comes together after years of separation, the final showdown will take place.

Take the R rating seriously. This is not a family film, the climax being as brutally violent as any film I have seen in a long time. (Fortunately, the filmmakers leave out the novel’s controversial group sexual orgy!) I can easily see how Pennywise could instill Coulrophobia into the minds of children. If you are into the horror genre, this film is a cut above the usual type in which we watch to see which dumb (and deserving of a bad fate) teenager is dispatched in some gruesome manner. Because the coming of age theme is handled so well, we really do care about these “Losers” who struggle to shed their label.

 This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the October issue of Visual Parables.


Lion (2016)

Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 58 min.

Our content ratings: Violence 2; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 2.

Our star rating (1-5): 4.5

For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds,

and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Luke 11:10


Saroo & his older brother Guddu are inseparable. (c) The Weinstein Co.

Saroo (Dev Patel) is a young Indian man raised by Sue and John Brierley (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham)  in Australia. He loves his adoptive parents, but he also longs to see his mother and older brother again, hence his long search for her. Like those described by Jesus in the above Scripture, he will need persistence. He was just 5 years-old when he became lost from his family, winding up aboard a train that took him to the other side of the vast Indian subcontinent.

Director Garth Davis’s film begins in 1986 with five-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) atop a hill where he is fascinated by a swarm of butterflies. At the beck of his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), he runs after him to board a coal train. They fill a bag with coal, manage to jump off the train after an officer spots them, they sell the stolen coal and are able to buy some honey and milk. They arrive back home in the village of Khandwa to share the milk with their mother Kamla and little sister Shekila, but do not reveal where they obtained the money to buy the treasure.

One night when Guddu is slipping out to return to the railroad yard and travel to another town to find work, Saroo begs to go with him. Reluctant at first, Guddu gives in, but, as he had feared, at the station the little brother is too sleepy to go any further. Guddu leaves him on a bench and promises to return for him. When the boy awakens a few hours later, he is anxious to find his brother. He boards an empty passenger train in search of Guddu, but, not finding him, goes to sleep again. The train is moving when he wakes up, and he is not able to unlock the doors. The train is not in service, and thus does not make any stops until it reaches Calcutta, a thousand miles from his home. In its teeming streets, the boy encounters enough obstacles that in themselves could fill a film. The people speak Bengali, whereas Saroo’s language is Hindi. There are hundreds of other homeless children sleeping atop small sheets of cardboard in a tunnel. Police and other adults chase after the pack of boys. Food must be stolen. A seemingly kind woman shelters Saroo, only to call a man the next morning to look the boy over. Sensing the man wants to use him for some dark purpose, the boy runs away, disappearing into the crowds. Picked up by the police, he does not know his address for them to locate his mother. They send him to an orphanage where he and other potential adoptees giggle as they are taught table manners and the English words for the tableware in preparation for their adoption.

The Brierleys choose Saroo and take him to their home in Tasmania where he is showered with loving care. Soon after they adopt another Indian boy named Mantosh, but he turns out to be deeply disturbed, and so the once tranquil home is filled with turmoil. Nonetheless, the loving couple refuse to give up the disturbed boy.

The second half of the film begins some 20-25 years later. Saroo is in Melbourne studying hotel management. He begins a romance with fellow student Lucy (Rooney Mara), and through her he meets several Indian students. They are intrigued by his background and encourage him to begin searching for his roots using Google Earth. He especially is motivated to do so when at one of their parties a plate of jalebis triggers a memory. Jalebis are a delicious sweet desert that he had once asked Guddu to buy. Lacking money, his brother told him that one day he would do so.

From his laptop’s Google Earth Saroo searches for something familiar along the numerous railroad lines extending for a thousand miles beyond Calcutta. He turns the wall of his room into a giant chart of all the rail-lines leading in an out of the city. He has in his mind an image of a water tower that he had seen across from the station where he had last been with his brother. No spoiler in revealing that he eventually is successful, returning at last to his native village to find…

This film is even more remarkable in that it is a true story, adapted by Luke Davies’ from Brierleys’ memoir A Long Way Home. The great cast and marvelous, scenic photography make this a pleasure to watch. This is a very emotional film, but unlike Collateral Beauty, you do not feel manipulated by this cinematic treasure. We even see the real characters during the closing credits, at which time I hope you have a handkerchief close by. We also learn the significance of the title at the end—I will only say that no lions were harmed in the making of this film.

Good teaching scene: Saroo expresses his gratitude to Sue and John Brierley for their taking him in, and she replies that they are the ones who have been blessed. When Saroo implies that she was not able to birth a child, she tells him that she was able, but that the world was so over populated that they had decided not to add to its number, but to become parents for those who needed them.

This review with a set of questions is in the Jan. 2017 issue of VP.