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Projecting Horror: The Best Scene in ‘It’

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 9, 2017, but for obvious reasons, we’ve decided to spotlight it again. 

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Stephen King’s 1986 magnum opus, about a deranged murdering clown named Pennywise who haunts the children of Derry, Maine, has now been adapted twice, to varying degrees of success. According to King, It is one of his favorite books that he has written, and in a recent interview, he praised the latest adaptation. The movie, which lingered for a half-decade in pre-production, represents the first time It has been brought to the big screen (the first was a television mini-series) and judging by online reactions and the current 88% Tomatometer score, people seem to love this new take. King isn’t wrong to praise the film – It is among the best Stephen King adaptations ever made, not because it is scary (because, truthfully, it isn’t) – but because director Andrés Muschietti’s vision is extremely funny, entertaining, and, most importantly, heartwarming.

At 135 minutes, It covers only the childhood half of the book, saving the adult portion for the upcoming sequel, set 27 years later. The decision to split the movie in two was a wise move on the part of the studio since it allows the filmmakers more time to flesh out both the story and the large cast of characters. As in the novel, children are disappearing in the small town of Derry, courtesy of Pennywise, who appears every 27 years and terrifies kids to death by manifesting himself as their worst fears. Shifting the timeline of the book forward three decades, It opens in 1988 and revolves around a gang of seven high school kids who form “The Losers’ Club.” The leader is Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), a melancholy, brave boy whose little brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), has gone missing. He enlists his posse of similarly bullied outcasts to help him investigate the supernatural forces haunting both the children and their small town. In his mission to uncover the reasons behind the disappearance of his younger sibling, he is joined by wise-cracking, foul-mouthed trash-talker Richie (Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard), high-strung rabbi’s son Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) and Beverly (Sophia Lillis), a lonely girl who desperately tries to escape her sexually abusive father. The other three members include Mike (Chosen Jacobs), an African-American orphan whose parents died in a mysterious fire; the new kid on the block Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), a chubby bookworm who becomes obsessed with uncovering the town’s dark seedy past, and finally, Eddie, a hypochondriac mama’s boy played by Jack Dylan Grazer, who pretty much steals the entire show.

As with Stand By Me, another Stephen King adaptation, what sets It apart from most modern Hollywood horror films is the movie’s stellar cast. In fact, the best parts of It have nothing to do with the cackling manifestations of the murderous Pennywise but with the camaraderie, bickering, and curiosity among these kids, who, unlike many on-screen teenagers, seem like real kids. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the movie’s most memorable scenes are the quieter ones — most notably when the losers’ club gather together in their underwear for an afternoon swim in the town quarry.

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Of course, criticism has been made that while every one of the young actors is perfectly cast, we wind up knowing little about these kids outside of their lone identifying trait (the fat kid, the Jewish kid, the black kid and so on), with the final stereotype being Sophia Lillis’s Beverly – the lone female member who becomes victim to a poorly handled romantic love triangle involving Bill and Ben. There is some truth behind these criticisms and It is far from a perfect film, but the underlying allegory of these characters facing their deepest fears as they enter adulthood gives the movie emotional weight — and regardless of if we get to know these characters or not, It is a chilling examination of what it’s like to grow up living in fear, be it the onset of puberty or something deeper and far more disturbing, such as neglect, abuse, discrimination, poverty, and/or violence. In fact, the film’s true villains – older kids like Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and the adults like Beverly’s abusive father or Eddie’s controlling mother – are monstrous themselves. Of course, this is still a horror movie, and when the children begin to disappear, our group of young heroes is faced with their biggest inner demons when they square off against Pennywise, whose history of murder and violence dates back for centuries.IT Projector

While many have drawn comparisons to Stranger Things, the movie that It resembles most is actually Wes Craven’s 1984 masterpiece, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Pennywise, after all, is no different than Freddy Krueger: both are among the most recognizable modern horror villains and both a supernatural force that feeds on deep childhood fears. And like Freddy, Pennywise is also the literal, deadly manifestation of the evil that man is capable of committing. Emerging from the long shadow of Tim Curry (whose interpretation of Pennywise is the biggest highlight of the TV mini-series) is Bill Skarsgard who does a marvelous job stepping in as the creepy, dancing clown with outsize yellow teeth, a high-pitched squeak of a voice and a knack for terrifying kids. Much like Elmstreet, only the children in Derry see the supernatural forces and like Craven’s original film, nearly every scene builds to some sort of climactic jump scare.

There’s quite a few scenes that will have viewers shrieking, such as the scene where a charred, headless corpse chases Ben through a library, the leprous zombie who menaces Eddie outside the abandoned house, the menacing portrait of a deformed flute player who magically comes to life, or even the bathroom sink that sprouts fountains of blood on poor, helpless Beverly. But the best scene in the entire film is without a doubt the scene that takes place in the garage.

Two of the most famous moments of the original source material involves Georgie’s photo album. In the first scene, Bill is flipping through the photograph and when he lands on a picture of his little brother, the image of Georgie in the photograph winks at him. The second scene, known as the “Bloody Photograph,” comes later when Bill shows Ritchie the photo album and a photo of downtown Derry begins to move before Bill’s hand gets severely cut after being momentarily sucked into the picture. The movie replaces these scenes with something even better.

As mentioned above, the second attempt to adapt King’s 1,100-page novel focuses entirely on the childhood-set portions of King’s book and the centerpiece of the entire film takes place in Bill’s garage when he sets up a projector so he and his friends can study the town’s layout. It’s a crucial scene that marks the first time all seven kids work together in order to combat the evil that threatens them and the first time all seven kids simultaneously see Pennywise. And as Bill often reminds his friends, the seven kids are stronger together than apart, and the unique bond that forms among children is far more important than what differences separate them. It after all, is a story about friendship and each one of the members of the Losers Club is a loner, and only really start to blossom through the friendships they make with each other. Not only is the scene unforgettable in how effectively well it manages to scare the audience, but it also represents the moment the seven kids truly form an alliance.

The scene also gives further insight into the backstory to both Pennywise and the town’s cursed sewer system. Most people associate Stephen King with Maine and Maine with Stephen King and with reason. King almost exclusively writes and sets his stories and uses these locations to increase the authenticity of his stories, painting them as all part of the same fictional universe. In stories like It, he borrows liberally from real places and director Muschietti does well to capture the pulsing menace of Derry itself, a place that lives under the imposing threat of a curse placed on the town centuries ago — a curse it seems powerless to keep from perpetuating, one generation to the next. One could argue that Derry itself, is one of the most important characters in Andy Muchietti’s movie and thankfully the filmmakers find various ways to explore the small rural town, even if it’s via small details like projecting the town’s map against the wall.

Stephen King It

The effects in this scene stand out as well — Pennywise crawling out, larger-than-life, from the projector, is an astonishing visual. Combine that with the booming sound effects, the meticulous production design, and the gorgeous visuals by cinematography Chung-hoon Chung, and what you have is the most memorable scene of any horror film released this year. Muchietti creates an air of dread that begins with the projector being turned on and never lets up, subtly incorporating elements from Hideo Nakata’s Ringu. It’s a deviously engineered set-piece that’ll crawl under your skin and if It is to be remembered as a collection of frightening, hallucinatory, and grandiose nightmarish imagery; the projector scene stands tall among them. As the clown cackled and grinded his rotting teeth, and wiggled his devious eyebrows, I could feel my palms sweating before my hands gripped on tight to the armrest. Beverly’s Carrie-like encounter might be the bloodiest scene in the movie, but watching the terrified reactions of all seven kids trembling in fear as Pennywise emerged from the screen, is by far the most terrifying – and the only scene that truly had my audience jumping from their seats.

  • Ricky D

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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‘The Kingmaker’ is a Probing Look at the Wife of a Despot

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Imelda Marcos in The Kingmaker

The Queen of Versailles, released back in 2012, was one of the best documentaries of the decade. Directed by Lauren Greenfield, it followed Jackie Siegel, the trophy wife of David Siegel, founder of the timeshare company Westgate Resorts. The film depicted the family’s construction of what was to be the largest residential home in the United States, which quickly went awry once the 2008 financial crisis hit their business hard. The documentary showed that Greenfield has a unique gift for understanding the lives and pathologies of the super-wealthy. Seven years later, Greenfield is back with The Kingmaker, another documentary portrait of a rich lady — one who, like Jackie Siegel, also had a cartoonishly evil husband and a weakness for both opulent residences and rare exotic animals.

The Kingmaker is a portrait of Imelda Marcos, the First Lady of the Philippines from the 1960s to the ’80s. Imelda is known in the popular imagination as the supportive wife of that country’s dictator Ferdinand Marcos, for frequently meeting with world leaders, and for her extensive collection of thousands of pairs of shoes. This one is set on the other side of the world, but is just as instructive, not to mention entertaining.

The Kingmaker Imelda

Greenfield’s film catches up with the now 90-year-old Imelda, and depicts her life today as she luxuriates around her various estates, reminisces about late husband, tells stories about meeting with leaders from Reagan to Mao to Saddam, and pushes the political career of her son, known as Bongbong, who ran for vice president of the Philippines in 2016. 

For the first half hour or so, The Kingmaker looks like an attempt to humanize and even rehabilitate Imelda’s image. She opens up about her mother’s death and her husband’s serial infidelities; he claimed he was constantly sending her around the world because he feared a coup, but really it was so he could conduct extramarital affairs.

We start to think this is, if not a puff piece, the equivalent of one of Errol Morris’ docs, where he gives a controversial political figure a chance to have their say while also challenging them. 

But eventually things turn, and The Kingmaker lays out that the Marcos family had in fact engaged in massive human rights improprieties, from torturing political dissidents to rigging elections, to a scheme that entailed razing an entire residential area in order to build a zoo of exotic animals which were imported from Africa via bribes. Perhaps it was a clue early on when Imelda revealed how well she got along with the likes of Richard Nixon, Moammar Khadafy, Mao Tse-Tung, and Saddam Hussein. 

The Marcos family also plundered billions from their own people, which paid for real estate all over the world, priceless art, as well as that famous shoe collection (The Kingmaker shows, among other things, that the Philippines could really use an Emoluments Clause.) What Imelda has to say now (she only ever refers to her husband as “Marcos”) makes it clear that she was not only complicit in the dictator’s crimes, but continues to defend and profit from them to this day. 

And from what we see of the Marcos’ son, Bongbong, he’s a uniquely untalented and uninspiring politician who has inherited all of his father’s corruption, but none of his charisma. The Kingmaker also ties in with the modern-day politics of the country, as its current president, Rodrigo Dutarte, is shown as the true heir to the Marcos tradition, depicted as a Trump to Bongbong’s Jeb Bush.

The Kingmaker also recalls Joshua Oppenheimer’s great 2013 documentary The Act of Killing in the way it demonstrates how national myths are established and carried through the generations. We see schoolchildren reciting why the imposition of martial law was actually a moment of national glory. 

Greenfield’s last film, last year’s Generation Wealth, was a big step down, lacking any focus and for some reason concentrating a great deal on people from the porn industry. But The Kingmaker is a return to form for the filmmaker, as it shows she’s honest enough to speak ill of her own subject. 

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‘Rojo’ Takes Carefully Composed Aim at Argentina’s Murky Past

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Getting off to a creepy and crackling start, Benjamín Nasihtat’s Rojo can’t quite live up to its opening promise while admirably trying to navigate a muddied maze of vague suspicion around a small town in Argentina during the 1970s before the coup. Still, though the story bumps into a few dead ends before finally emerging into some light at the finish, exquisite compositions — punctuated by occasional bursts that mimic the time period’s cinematic style — and a quietly simmering performance from star Darío Grandinetti manage to keep things engaging enough throughout this low-key thriller.

Rojo vacation

After a mysterious opening shot in which an abandoned house in a pleasant neighborhood is calmly looted by various locals, Rojo directs our attention to a cozy, upscale restaurant where respectable lawyer Claudio sits alone, waiting for his wife, courteously acknowledged by other similarly well-off patrons. He draws the ire of another customer, who abrasively chides Claudio for occupying a table when he is not ready to order, thus depriving those who are. Pretending to take the higher road, Claudio gives up his seat, but can’t resist also giving this rude young man a lecture of his own — one that despite its refined vocabulary, smacks of hostile superiority. From there, an altercation ensues that will not only haunt Claudio for the rest of the film, but also stand for a certain societal rot that took over a country.

The sequence is chilling in its callousness, the way in which a person is removed from a restaurant — and a community — with nary a blink of an eye; soon, everyone is back to chattering away, enjoying their meals as if a mere pest had entered and was quickly shooed away. Beneath their civilized faces, however, their are subtle signs of deep unease. Rojo expertly creates a tension here that it will then go on to very slowly dilute, as more and more tangents are given prominence in an attempt to reinforce already clear themes without shedding new light on them.

Rojo locker room

The paranoia and guilt lurking beneath nearly every interaction in Rojo serves to bring attention to the various disappearances that take place and are alluded to throughout the story. That fear of being “disappeared” without a trace is a clear reference to the “los desaparecidos” — political dissidents from the era who either fled the country or were kidnapped and murdered in the wake of a military coup that wanted to silence opposition. The premise that one can suddenly say the wrong thing and summarily be erased from society while everyone looks the other way is an inherently scary one, and that pervading atmosphere goes a long way toward making Rojo highly watchable.

However, once the general idea is firmly and skillfully established, Rojo seems to have little place else to go with it. A subplot involving selling the house from the prologue is mildly interesting in how it portrays the opportunistic behavior that capitalized on atrocity, but the process eventually fizzles out. American rodeo cowboys pay a visit, alluding to U.S. involvement during the coup, but not much else. A trip to the beach perhaps shows a bit of the pressure that gets to those who have had to turn a blind eye for so long, but little else is garnered outside a stylish depiction of a solar eclipse that washes the screen symbolic red. A teenage romance seems like it’s reaching for something important to say about dominance and jealousy, but can’t come up with more than another disappearance — and of a character who might as well be a nobody regardless, for the few minutes they are on screen.

A missing doctor, a magician’s act, a church confrontation; the power of the vanishings is undermined somewhat by their frequency. But maybe that’s the point — that we all can be desensitized to injustice.

Rojo teens

Still, whether or not one finds meaning, it’s hard to take one’s eyes off such gorgeously composed images as Nasihtat has crafted here. Though its plot often seems to lack focus, Rojo still emits a feeling of pinpoint exactitude through pictures. Nearly every frame is a joy to examine, creating a palpable sense that angles and staging have been meticulously prepared to convey important information key to unlocking the script’s mysteries. Restrained use of zooms and freeze frames also help inject some period style into the proceedings, and can be effectively startling. Holding it all together though is the repressed performance of Darío Grandinetti, who masterfully finds the quiet fear and hypocrisy in a certain kind of ‘upright’ citizen. As the various pressures grow (including from a big-city TV investigator played by Alfredo Castro), will he be able to hold it together?

The payoff is a bit anti-climactic, but Rojo has already been trending that way since the beginning. Nevertheless, it does conclude on a more explicit note, and there is a great visual pleasure to be had from simply watching this story unfold in such sharp, capable filmmaking hands.

‘Rojo’ is now available on digital formats from 1844 Entertainment.

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‘Queen of Hearts’ is a Frank and Difficult Look at Sexual Desire

Trine Dyrholm is typically brilliant in Danish film ‘Queen of Hearts’ — playing an older woman embarking on an affair with her stepson.

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Queen of Hearts

Queen of Hearts starts with a rather banal scene. Anne (Trine Dyrholm) walks through the woods with her dog. Her children are just outside her large, glass-heavy house. She goes inside, where her husband, Peter (Magnus Krepper), says police have called and he has to go. She looks outside at some barren trees, dramatic strings play, and the title credits come on; it’s a seemingly innocuous moment curdled into something far more ominous. 

This opening salvo with something moody and dark hiding within the banality and reliability of a simple family scene (later revealed to be in the future) sums up the Official Danish Best International Film submission Queen of Hearts as a whole. This is a film of bad decisions, loneliness, and creaky moral boundaries, interrogating the mores of modern womanhood against the backdrop of supposed domestic perfection. 

Our protagonist, Anne, is a lawyer who works with children who have been abused. She knows how to talk to young victims of rape and neglect, balancing a firm sense of what’s right with the necessary language to give these children hope. But she has difficulties switching from work to home, unable to give her twin daughters the affection they deserve. One way for anyone to switch off and focus on life outside of work, of course, is to engage in some form of intimacy; yet, her hypocritical, workaholic doctor husband has little time to give her any attention in the bedroom. 

When Peter’s teenage son, Gustav (Gustav Lindh), turns up to stay for the summer, Anne is immediately attracted to his moodiness and sexual swagger. Their slow seduction scenes seem to all come from different movies: porno (he suddenly comes out of the shower in the towel), summer indie drama (a scene in a lake with splashing water and an ecstatic soundtrack), and eventually horror (a writhing, overly staged sex scene in the dark that is extremely shocking in its frankness). 

These shifts in tone reflect the film’s queasy study in shifting sympathies, making Queen of Hearts a modern morality play baked in typically Scandinavian seriousness. Is Anne simply engaging in a harmless affair, rediscovering her long-dormant sexuality? Or is the age difference simply too far? With echoes of both The Hunt (2012) and the women-focused sex-dramas of Lars von Trier, it is sure to provoke a mixture of praise for its brazen female sexual gaze, and eventually disgust for where this gaze finally takes us. 

Queen of Hearts

Most of us assume that we are good people, even as we are engaging in less than savoury activities. It may look bad to people on the outside, but we have our reasons. The ever-reliable Trine Dyrholm turns in another mesmerising performance here, balancing her own lack of sexual self-confidence against her outwardly authoritative presence as a lawyer. Even if we cannot agree with what she does, Dyrholm successfully conveys her character’s complexity, making her sympathetic throughout. But just as we can never judge ourselves objectively, we can never know the ultimate effect our actions may have on others, especially in a dynamic such as this, leading to some bitter results. 

Queen of Hearts asks the viewer to never make assumptions, to think outside of clichés, and to really dig deep into the true heart of the matter. Director May el-Toukhy knows she has strong actors and a strong screenplay here, employing minimal tricks to just let them get on and really chew into the material. While unlikely to make it into the final Oscar shortlist, Queen of Hearts deserves a lot of credit for its utter brazenness and steadfast commitment to its difficult premise.

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