Saturday 18 November 2017

IT movie review - intrinsically hideous

Cert: 16; Now showing

Supernatural horror 'IT', based on Stephen King's novel
Supernatural horror 'IT', based on Stephen King's novel

Some people will be most horrified to know that it has been 27 years since the first film version of Stephen King's novel. That fact is actually scarier than this new version which, while short on horror per se definitely has one creepy clown and although way too long at two hours 15 minutes, is really enjoyable.

This is part one of an IT duology and it takes its time creating characters and setting the scene. It's Derry, Maine in 1988 and a boy called Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) makes a paper boat for his little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). Georgie goes missing, we know what happened to him but in the town he simply joins the ranks of missing children that no-one really wants to talk about.

The following year the local high school breaks up for summer, but not before we've met lost new boy Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and female outsider Beverly (Sophia Lillis). And local bully, mullet-sporting, white supremacist Henry (Nicholas Hamilton). Bill is still on a mission to find his little brother and his friends, including show-stealing Richie (Finn Wolfhard), are kind of willing to help him.

The self-dubbed Losers' Club join up with Ben and Beverly and home-schooled Mike (Chosen Jacobs) and it emerges they have all seen the same creepy clown, as well as figures conjured from their own personal terror. They investigate. In many respects the film, which has a great sense of the time, feels like Seven Go Ghostbusting, but the clown (an unrecognisable but tremendously creepy Bill Skarsgard) and the idea of missing, scared children is intrinsically hideous. Too long, but very good, director Andres Muschietti has done a really nice job and the kids are great. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor

The Work

Cert: Club; Selected cinemas

For sheer intensity, it is unlikely many documentary features this year will match this Grand Jury Prize winner at SXSW Film Festival which sits you down beside convicted killers and probes some deep, dark psychological fissures.

Besides the visceral nature of its subject matter - a four-day intensive group-therapy session held biannually in Folsom State Prison that involves members of the public - The Work is also rare in format too. Co-directors Gethin Aldous and Jairus McLeary adopt a strict fly-on-the-wall approach that picks up hidden sensations and leaves space for the audience to form their own opinions about this unorthodox and all-consuming psychotherapeutic technique.

The filmmakers mostly frame one particular circle of participants within the workshop comprising murderers and former gang members, facilitators and a trio of members of the public who apply to take part.

For the inmates - most of whom are well versed by this stage in the methodology - 'The Work', as it's called, is an ongoing treatment. Perhaps more intriguing is what the outside volunteers are seeking to gain from it all and, amazingly, just how wholly they are ingested by the process.

Over the 90 minutes, these troubled souls are broken down and rebuilt, daddy issues loom large and poisonous emotional boils are finally lanced. And throughout, it is never less than urgent and engrossing. ★★★★★ Hilary A White

Insyriated

Cert: 15A; Now showing IFI

Belgian filmmaker Philippe Van Leeuw takes us to an apartment block in current-day Damascus for this claustrophobic and affecting film. The action all takes place within one day, in one space. Young couple Halima (Diamand Bou Abboud) and Samir (Moustapha Al Kar) are planning their escape from the war-torn city. Their own apartment destroyed, they and their baby are guests of their rather forbidding neighbour Oum (Hiam Abbas) who lives with her father-in-law, home help, three children and a teenage boy.

Samir is shot when he leaves the building but only the home help (Juliette Navis) sees this and when she tells Oum, she insists that Halima should not be told. The secret adds to the already great tension in the house, with its own huis clos, the external threats and constant fear. Then happens a second shocking event. This actually comes too late which throws the drama of the film off and makes the event seem short changed.

However, this is real life for too many people, it's well-acted, atmospheric and moving.

★★★ Aine O'Connor

The Drummer And The Keeper 

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Serious issues don't have to be dealt with deadly seriously, they just have to be dealt with. Nick Kelly's first full-length feature deals with both the issues of mental health and Asperger's in a remarkably light way and won Best First Feature at the Galway Fleadh.

One dawn a bottomless Gabriel (Dermot Murphy) laughs as he sets fire to a sofa on Sandymount Strand. This is our drummer, a talented and occasionally over exuberant young man whose great love is his band. But the sofa on the strand is not his first foray into arson, so his sister (Aoibhinn McGinnity) stages an intervention. Gabriel is bi-polar with psychotic episodes, he is also grieving. His meds do control his issues but they dampen his fire, however he is given little choice and agrees to start taking them regularly.

Part of his treatment is to play soccer on a mixed ability team and there he meets Christopher (Jacob McCarthy), our keeper. Christopher has Asperger's and lives in an institution, happily believing that when he turns 18 in a few weeks he will return to live with his mother (Ally Ni Chiarain) and her new husband.

The unlikely and not always simple friendship between Gabriel and Christopher does them both good as they face their very different problems. Peter Coonan, Phelim Drew and Olwen Fouere are among the well-known faces that crop up to help tell a story with lots of charm, sweetness and funny moments. It avoids anything too heavy, but still makes a point. ★★★ Aine O'Connor

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