A group of bullied kids band together when a monster, taking the appearance of a clown, begins hunting children.
I went into the theater to see “It” with very high expectations. I love several Stephen King novels, and I enjoy most his novels that are adapted to the big screen. “The Shining,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” and “Stand by Me” are all in my top 30 films of all time, and all of which are based on a King novel or short story. I appreciated the 1990 Television miniseries adaptation of “It” for what it was, but I never felt fully satisfied. There are some things I did not like about that series, but overall it is enjoyable enough to watch. Andy Muschietti’s partial variation of the novel completely blows the miniseries out of the water in every way possible. There is so much to like about this film. It is not only one of the most fun movies of the year, but one of the best movies of the year too. It is the best horror film I have watched since “The Cabin in the Woods.” But what sets this film apart more than any other recent horror movie, is that it isn’t a film focused on a monster who kills kids, it focuses on a group of friends who stick together while being terrorized by a monster.
In Derry, Maine in 1989, people are going missing. The latest to disappear is Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), the younger brother of Bill (Jaeden Lieberher). Even though Georgie has been missing for about a year, Bill thinks that his brother’s disappearance has something to do with the sewer system. While dealing with the loss of Georgie, Bill and his friends Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Stan (Wyatt Oleff) also have to fend off bullies, who become the least of their problems when a supernatural entity appearing as a clown and calling itself Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) begins showing up as their deepest fears. Creating a friendship with outcasts Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), and Mike (Chosen Jacobs), the group, known as “The Losers Club,” sets out to defeat “It” and stop the disappearances.
At the core of this film, it is about a group of teenagers and their friendship. One of my worries going into this film was if Muschietti was going to take the cheap route and Center “It” around Pennywise and jump scares. Well, he did the exact opposite. The movie could have just made The Losers completely generic and feel bland, but the director really created depth and uniqueness in each of the characters. The thing about “It” that is different than most other horror films is the way you attach yourself to each of the characters. You are able to resonate with someone in the group and pick out different characters and think “yeah, I remember that kid from middle school.” The group is likable because the friendship and chemistry feel real. It doesn’t feel like they are friends because they are fighting “It,” but because they actually genuinely care for one another. The script is really what holds it together. Each of the characters’ development is outstanding. Every time Pennywise is around one of the kids you really feel scared and care about their well-being. Because of their different personalities, you get invested in them.
Let me address Pennywise the Dancing Clown, portrayed by Bill Skarsgard. I honestly don’t know if there could’ve been a creepier performance than his. He did not try to imitate Tim Curry’s Pennywise in the 1990 version. He created his own character and I think he was scarier. You can throw jump scares at people every five minutes but when there is no context behind those scares than what is the point? Pennywise could’ve been taken in many different directions. The studio could’ve just dumbed the character down and used him as a device for scares and horror elements, but they used him in a really thought out way. When we are first introduced to him, we know exactly what this character is about. The creature is only motivated by hunger and a need to feed on fear. It’s a simple, yet complex character. The first encounter with the clown is with Georgie at the beginning of the film and after that, you are scared and intimidated. We get to see him get into the kids’ heads and really play with their fears. The movie didn’t force him down our throats, it let us enjoy Pennywise while we could. I liked how the writers kept his dialogue minimal and weren’t trying to make him funny. I was very happy they didn’t go too much into his back story, I think they are saving that for Chapter 2. Horror films are about the unknown and this feels very loyal to the genre.
The most impressive thing that director Muschietti accomplishes in this film, is the way he handles the different tones throughout. This horror film isn’t all just scares and it shouldn’t be. Muschietti really delivers on the horror scenes and imagery, but he delivers just as much with the humor and heart of the film. The interaction between the Losers Club is just like the interactions between the kids in “The Goonies,” “Stand by Me,” or even the television series, “Stranger Things.” But I believe this film is the funniest of them all. Richie really is the biggest comedic element throughout but all of the kids have their time to shine. The movie isn’t the scariest ever, but the imagery is terrifying. The film focuses more on the Losers than on Pennywise and I think, in the end, it benefits from having more character development than terrifying moments. The scares weren’t meaningless jump scares each of them had real substance. They were placed when they were needed and they helped move the story along. A lot of horror films have scares that just derail from the plot and that is not the case for “It.” There were dramatic moments, mainly with Beverly dealing with the trauma from her sexually abusive father, and Muschietti handles it perfectly. There are so many tones throughout the film and Muschietti balances them perfectly.
The visuals for “It” are terrific. The scenes and setting for Derry really feel banal but intriguing at the same time. The horror and creepy moments really benefit from the imagery and the score of the film. Each scene that is created isn’t solely used for just creepiness, but each scene has a purpose to serve in the story and has tension no matter what. When Pennywise displays the children’s fear, you feel how scared the child is through the visuals and music. The pacing is also outstanding. The movie never drags or has you bored. I checked my watch with 15 minutes left to go and was deeply upset the film was almost over.
The reason this movie stands apart from most other horror films is that it takes a different approach. It doesn’t focus on the terrifying demon clown Pennywise, rather, it centers on the Losers Club. It really is a coming-of-age film about a group of teenagers stuck in a horrific situation, and it couldn’t have been done any better. Andy Muschietti really surprised me with his work on this film and deserves a lot of credit. “It” could’ve been like 2015’s “Poltergeist” or many other iterations of horror remakes, but it took a risk and hit it perfectly. I hope studios look at “It” and what it has accomplished and start allowing directors more opportunities like Muschietti had.
In theaters now