Now this is mainstream horror done right! Wow.
In the city of Derry, several young bullied kids are stalked by a malicious and supernatural force that represents itself as a clown. As children mysteriously vanish, not only do the kids uncover a long history behind the menace but they take it upon themselves to defeat the entity for good.
Horror has a bad wrap in recent years, for good reason too. For the most part the genre has become tired and cliche, relying on cheap jump-scares and brainless characters who have no redeeming factors at all. It is perhaps the most popular book by the legendary horror writer Stephen King (or at least, tied equal with The Shining) and while the monstrously sized story did get a television mini-series adaptation in 1990 with Tim Curry, it was due a remake. It had dated. If you didn’t grow up with it, it wasn’t tremendously scary anymore.
2017’s It has revamped it, boy has it been improved!
Which is funny to say, because by its very nature, It is somewhat of a grandfather of horror. The creature, known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, feeds off your fear and becomes what you dread the most to overpower and consume you. That in itself is something of a cliche now; I doubt there’s any genre television show that hasn’t done something like that by now. It is full to bursting with classic tropes and setups, both from scares and from character motivations and backstories, a genuine carnival ride of terrors.
Yet, it works.
Sure, there are moments when you think: “Huh, that was a little convenient” or “Why did he go off on his own?” but these are minor transgressions in light of everything it does so well. That this story predates a lot of what we take for granted in cinema horror. This film gets what it is to be scared, it knows when to be big and when to restrain itself. Despite a very full theatre, it was incredible to hear everyone hush – without knowing it – only for the film to rip the carpet from under you and everyone laughs nervously that the film had managed to get them all at once.
Directed by Andy Muschietti, who also directed the criminally underrated Mama, the film is oozing with detail and gorgeous sets, from twee 1980s American yokel stuff to vile and truly disgusting moments. Nothing feels wasted or out of place, and the pacing is on point; the escalation becomes so traumatic that you almost wish it would end to spare you any more.
We have replaced Tim Curry’s crazy antics for Bill Skarsgard’s unhinged mania with Pennywise the Clown. He vanishes into the role. Appearing early within the shadows of a sewer drain, Pennywise courses with evil, from his glowing eyes, flaming head of hair, wandering eye, sharp, rabbit-like teeth and constant drool over his lip. I am not scared of clowns, but boy did I reconsider. If you are scared of clowns… you might have some difficulty!
While it is easy to focus on Pennywise, and rightly so, he is terrifying, the rest of the cast are excellent too. It has struck while the iron was hot, with Netflix’s Stranger Things becoming a massive hit recently and already borrowing from King’s 1980s kid-centric horror styling. This is no more obvious than Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard prominently featuring here as Ritchie! All of the kids are excellent, even if the roles are a little on-the-nose archetypes. The characters are all strong enough that more tender moments can occur without stalling the movie; while more time could have been given to them growing as a team, the quieter moments are full of great kid banter and witty dialogue. A lot of the dialogue is sharp, and a lot of it is loaded onto Finn Wolfhard!
But what cannot be understated is the film’s intensity when it comes to the scares. It is never quite predictable, despite its tropes. Pennywise and his wild phantoms born from the kids’ fears never move or hold the screen in the same way. He might rise from water or be simply standing there in plain daylight. You never know what he might do, or how he will move.
Despite very few moments of dodgy CGI taking me out of it, the monsters and the clown all look superb. Often drenched in shadow, but also surprisingly able to withstand brighter lighting. Especially Skarsgard in full, warped makeup. The devil is in the details sometimes, and It relishes in cruelly unpleasant moments.
I am genuinely impressed by how well It has done, mostly in implementation. It reeks of atmosphere and is surprisingly unpredictable; both fun and horrible, a little bit like its monster. I cannot wait for the second part!
Additional Marshmallows: Yes, this film is a first part! It is a massive story spanning two different time periods, and this film is only from the children’s perspective. The second part is due 2019 and I couldn’t be more excited!