Well, I’m sufficiently disturbed.
To be honest, I wasn’t all that excited to see the new film adaptation of Stephen King’s IT. I was never too fond of the original 1990 tv miniseries that admittedly hasn’t aged well aside from Tim Curry’s excellent performance, and judging by the trailer for the new remake, I thought the new IT was going to be yet another Hollywood movie trying to capitalize on the 80s nostalgia craze and be a flick that only specializes in jump scares.
In essence, I feared IT was going to be SHIT.
But thankfully, IT is actually quite good. In fact, it’s really good. So good in fact that IT joins the lexicon of truly exemplary horror films that have been released since the modern horror renaissance began a few years ago and would make a great double feature with recent horror classics such as The Babadook, It Follows, The Conjuring, Get Out, and so many others.
Yes, it’s really that good.
IT follows a pre-teen named Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) and his group of friends who live in the late 1980s era small town in Maine called Derry which is a place where a kids have been disappearing at an alarming rate due to Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) who is a cannibalistic murder clown that only kids can see, and if Bill and his gang of little rascals have any hope of surviving, they must band together and defeat Pennywise via the power of friendship.
While this plot may sound simple and childish, please don’t be fooled because damn is director Andy Muschietti’s new incarnation of It pants shittingly scary. In only his second feature film (the first being Mama), Muschietti has employed many devilish tricks to keep audiences on their toes.
IT wisely deviates from the slow burn aesthetic of its exceptional contemporaries, such as the Babadook and The Witch, by being incredibly fast paced. From the outset, there is an energy to this film in terms of how the camera is constantly in motion in how it turns, twirls, and thrusts forward when the tension of a scene crucially demands it. Normally such frantic movement would be exhausting, but in IT, it’s just a way that ratchets up the audience’s immersion with the terror that’s happening on screen.
What makes the camera work even more impressive is how well it uses this frenetic energy in close ups that induce a sense of claustrophobia in the viewer. Even when the action is in open spaces during the daytime, Muschietti creates haunting visuals that feel up close and personal by focusing on our panicked protagonists as they are being hunted by a truly grotesque monster clown that can pop out and scare the shit out of the audience during any given moment of the film.
Speaking of monster clowns, Bill Skarsgard makes the role of Pennywise his own. While Tim Curry’s portrayal of the demonic clown will remain a classic in horror movie lore for its camp, Skarsgard’s take is a career defining turn that is uniquely memorable as a full on embodiment of a living nightmare. Everything Skarsgard does is menacing, and every word he spits out has venom to the point that I’d believe any kid would have trauma after spending some quality time with him.
Shit, I’m a grown ass woman, but after seeing It, I can only sleep with the lights turned on while cuddling with a giant fluffy puppy.
The child actors probably feel the same way, and whoever the casting director is deserves a raise or at the very least a basket of cookies because the children are cast perfectly. Script wise, Bill and his group of friends are given the token treatment seeing as their most definable character traits are how Bill is the leader, Richie (Finn Wolfhard) is the nerd, Mike (Chosen Jacobs) is black, Beverly (Sophia Lillis) is the girl, Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) is jewish, Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazier) is the worry wort, and Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is the new kid, yet each kid embodies their one defining trait to its fullest and showcase their respective characters with humanity and heart even though they spout South Park-esque foul mouthed dialogue which is admittedly more reflective of the real world than most parents will ever admit.
With that said, the movie does have a few flaws with the most apparent one being how some of our protagonists should run away from a creepy as hell situation rather than letting their curiosity get the best of them. A perfect example of this occurs within the opening five minutes during the death scene of Bill’s younger brother Georgie where he calmly speaks to a Pennywise that’s lurking behind a sewer grate before meeting his ultimate demise. While this scene is iconic and great, I still can’t help but think that any rational kid would be hightailing it the fuck away from a sewer dwelling clown with a floating fetish.
I mean, Pennywise didn’t pop up just to say: “Hi!” because he needed to pay his electric bill, and the best case scenario as for why a clown is in the sewer is that he’s a lost drunkard covered in shit.
Kids, don’t talk to strangers.
The film additionally has a problem with tonal consistency in terms of how the 80s nostalgia bits are a tad incongruent with the tone of the rest of the film. While yes it’s good to get a much needed break from the pulse pounding tension from time to time, the fun 80s music that tries to convince us take a nostalgia trip just doesn’t jive with the blood, gore, and horror on screen even with the caveat that IT has exceptional taste musically (and for children).
Another problem is that earlier on in the movie the kids would separately see some creepy shit (like that clown is coming to eat my face level creepy) only for that same character, who witnessed a horror that would scar any kid for life, be calmly riding his bike or talking about how excited they were to go to an arcade in the next scene. While I’m not an expert on how to properly react in a real life situation involving a man eating clown, I’d would consider, “Let’s play video games!” to be a very unhealthy response.
With my incessant bitching aside, these problems on top of the more standard issues that plague horror movies these days (such as how there’s bit too much CG at times, and the gore is a bit over the top to the point of becoming unintentionally darkly comedic) are just minor issues that the film overcomes with ease in order to deliver a genuinely terrifying horror experience that I won’t be forgetting any time soon. The performances by Skarsgard and the kids are great, and director Muschietti must be commended for crafting such an accomplished horror film. I can’t wait to see what he does next.