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IT

“…our heroic nerd node, armed with nothing but bicycles and their sharp and consistently witty dialogue, embark upon filling their summer holidays with the most X-rated of Enid Blyton-esque adventures.”

Wayward Wolf.

As an unusually dark coming-of-age story, by and large, there’s a lot to like about IT. As an iconic horror movie for a new generation, on the other hand, I’m not so sure it really delivers.

Ultimately though, IT is, to all intents and purposes, a horror movie, and will surely therefore be judged primarily upon its ‘fright factor’. Whilst it contains a handful of genuinely creepy and slightly unsettling moments, they perhaps don’t have quite the impact required over the duration of a piece that really could have benefitted from being substantially shorter.

Part horror, part teen coming-of-age tale, IT, follows the exploits of a band of 1980’s nerdy misfits bound together largely by their collective ability to be relentlessly bullied by a gang whose leader is so beside himself with rage, I can only put this down to an air of disgruntlement regarding his bad 80’s mullet. Not only this, but each of the kids has also experienced their own rather unsavoury encounter with a demonic entity masquerading as a clown, named Pennywise, whose presence, when only fleeting and unexplored, is particularly well realised here. This most satanic of circus freaks is hell-bent on bumping off (whilst feeding off the fear of) many an unfortunate youngster in the small sleepy town of Derry.

Indeed, Derry has a worrying trend for disappearing children that stretches way back through the generations.

But who’d have thought it?

Belch Huggins (Jake Sim), that’s who’d have thought it.

The portly little loner has spent many a friendless hour in the local library researching this very thing, and his detective work has paid off handsomely, unearthing all manner of historical ghoulish goings on.

With their resolve strengthened, and united through their common goal, Derry’s answer to the Red Hand Gang will attempt once and for all to put paid to Pennywise’s clowning about, and seek to send him packing to the big top in the sky.

Or something.

If the fundamental staples and building blocks of what have constituted successful horror movies through the ages, are metal – (bear with me here) – then the film IT is one mother of a strong, indiscriminate horror magnet.

From old abandoned ‘Psycho-esque’ houses, sudden loud noises and high-pitched scraping glissando strings, to children singing sweet nursery rhymes to discordant accompaniments, Andy Muschietti has begged, borrowed and stolen from just about every conceivable classic horror source possible, as he absolutely hurls even the (presumably blood-splattered) kitchen sink at this movie.

And it sort of works – to a point.

It helps that surrounding, supporting and at times swamping the scary bits is a thoroughly charming little tale of teenage friendship and camaraderie in the face of the double onslaught of be-mulleted bullies and psychotic circus acts.

Indeed, very much the beating heart of this piece is the entertaining interplay between the film’s excellent and thoroughly engaging young cast whose depiction of young 1980’s teenagers is refreshingly spot on and cause for much unashamedly rose-tinted reminiscing.

With obvious tips of the hat to the classic teen flicks of yesteryear – Stand By Me and The Goonies spring to mind, amongst others – not to mention a very Spielberg-ian approach to the direction, our heroic nerd node, armed with nothing but bicycles and their sharp and consistently witty dialogue, embark upon filling their summer holidays with the most X-rated of Enid Blyton-esque adventures.

But herein lies a major problem. Once it becomes apparent that our gang of crusading crime-fighters is not in fact merely comprised of readily-dispensable units, ripe for the  slaughter at the massive feet of Pennywise, and is more a cohesive band of brothers (and sisters) on whose collective survival the film’s narrative rather depends, then all sense of foreboding and fear for their safety that has been carefully harnessed up until this point, takes something of a sharp left out of the nearest window. Sadly, this leaves the film to trundle predictably through the motions towards its underwhelming conclusion.

In terms of horror, it could be argued that IT is probably more Harry Potter than Hellraiser, for example, and there really is only so far that a tsunami of horror clichés, psychotic laughing and an unremitting, massively over-the-top soundtrack can take you when it comes to conjuring up the perfect, genuinely unnerving atmosphere.

As ever, less would have been so much more.

On balance, it should be stressed that IT does get an awful lot right though, and in many ways it makes for a highly entertaining couple of hours. But I suspect that Andy Muschietti’s vision for this film was to be a little less fantasy, and a lot more fear; and on that basis – and it could just be me – this has to be chalked up as a slightly disappointing re-make of this classic Stephen King novel.

 

 

 

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THE BELKO EXPERIMENT

“I still remember when ‘horror’ films were not so much the ironic, tongue-in-cheek, ‘knowing’ tips of the hat to the genre that they’ve become…”

Wayward Wolf.

The Belko Experiment has been described as “Office Space meets Battle Royale“, which on balance is probably about right. Absurdly comical, yet horrific and unnerving at times.

In truth, I’m a little torn on this one. I still remember when ‘horror’ films were not so much the ironic, tongue-in-cheek, ‘knowing’ tips of the hat to the genre that they’ve become, but genuinely disturbing experiences in their own right, in which the director would set out to frighten the living beJeezus out of those that might dare to watch them, with scant chance of any light relief along the way.

Of course, as with any genre, only a small percentage of attempts ever truly succeeded in achieving this – think Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Thing, The Blair Witch Project and so on – but they were all created with one sole purpose in mind, to be properly frightening, for frightening’s sake.

Greg McLean – no stranger to ‘straight’ horror – best known as he is for a piece of horror very much cut from that particular cloth, Wolf Creek – is the director responsible for The Belko Experiment, which is essentially a darkly humorous, ironic horror, centered around the rather awkward theme of kill or be killed.

It would be unfair however to suggest that The Belko Experiment doesn’t contain genuinely unsettling moments that are designed to strike fear into your very core. It very definitely does. There is perhaps after all no better vehicle for unnerving an audience than converting something that would be considered a perfectly safe, albeit dull haven – such as people’s banal, every day working environments – into the scene of untold terror. Better still, why not make it a setting from which there really is genuinely no escape, no matter how hard you try.

The events take place in a lone-standing, non-descript concrete office block on the outskirts of Bogota, Colombia – the home of Belko Industries – in which an English speaking staff from a whole variety of backgrounds assemble for work as they would on any other day. With their morning coffees barely touched, they are suddenly informed via an unrecognised voice over the building’s intercom, that they cannot now leave the premises. The thought of being marooned at work would be bad enough for some, but when that’s followed up with an insistence that the staff must murder two of their number within half an hour “or there will be repercussions,” then you’ve got all the ingredients right there for a properly bad day at the office.

And so, to the jarring sound of impenetrable external shutters slamming shut over each and every window and feasible means of escape, the Belko experiment begins…

With more than a whiff of a Big Brother surveillance society pervading, it becomes increasingly clear to one and all entombed within the building that there is no escaping this growing, potentially gruesome crisis, and it’s not long before critical divisions begin to appear among the employees, and fractious behaviour abounds.

There are those insistent upon calm and reason, whilst there is a splinter group believing that in light of rapidly unfolding events, the only route forward is to consider the good of the many, and to make some extremely tough decisions. These are decisions that are not going to bode well for some. One thing is very clear though; ultimately everyone is bound to play by the same rules; the rules being set by this mysterious, elusive voice, and there appears to be not a damned thing that anyone can do about it.

It is this sense of desperation and helplessness that is the chief triumph of The Belko Experiment and Maclean conveys this effectively throughout the piece. It is particularly interesting to watch the gradual decay of inter-employee relations, as petty work rivalries soon escalate out of all control. An increasing sense of despair envelops and disables many, yet it drives others to decisive, brutal action.

Even forgiving the film’s rather clumsy, somewhat unnecessary conclusion, and the unavoidably tension-sapping effect of employing an overly familiar cast – something of a who’s who of minor roles in American film and TV – there is, however, no doubting that The Belko Experiment is a highly effective horror whose approach lies somewhere between old school frightener and post-Scream era dark humour.

My only minor ambivalence to The Belko Experiment stems from a personal preference of what a horror by definition should be, and thus probably shouldn’t be considered to be any sort of noteworthy criticism, as such.

Take it for what it is.

There’s nothing particularly innovative here if truth be told, and it’s far from an original concept in the first place, but what it does have to offer is handled well. It’s refreshingly punchy with good momentum and mercifully doesn’t dwell heavily upon any distracting personal back stories that would offer little or nothing to the film as a whole.

The Belko Experiment is a well executed (excuse the pun if you’d be so kind) modern horror that should inject a suitably unsettling 90 minutes into your day.