One day as an innocent six-year-old, I went over to a friend’s house to hang out, like kids tend to do. My friend’s older brother thought it would be a good idea to show us the TV miniseries It, based off the Stephen King novel of the same name. Being innocuous and ignorant, I had no idea what I was getting into, until I saw a clown with razor sharp teeth, which scarred me for a few years. I ended up revisiting parts of the miniseries as an adult and found myself thinking, “This is what was terrifying me so much as a kid?” Sure, Tim Curry was fantastically scary as Pennywise the Clown, but the rest of it was your typical low budget, made for TV Stephen King nonsense. Now, 27 years later (coincidentally the amount of time It takes to rest between feasts), we have a new adaptation of King’s seminal horror novel. Maybe this one will actually be good?  

In the town of Derry, Maine in the 1980’s, children have been mysteriously disappearing for the past year. Teenager Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) is personally affected by this when his younger brother Georgie ends up as one of the missing kids. Constantly bullied at school, he forms a connection with the other misfits, and they all become fast friends. That’s not the only connection they share, though. Ever since Georgie’s disappearance, Bill has been greeted with terrifying visions of him, all accompanied by an evil clown known as Pennywise (Bill Skargård). He learns his friends have had similar experiences with Pennywise, who’s revealed to be a being that takes many forms, primarily of your worst fears, which terrifies you before it feasts on you. With nobody but each other, the group works together to overcome their own personal fears and defeat It once and for all. 

I’ve never read Stephen King’s novel It and I have only seen some scenes of the TV miniseries, so you’re not going to find any biases or comparisons to anything here. As it stands on its own, the new It film is a fun and very effective horror film. While I hated director Andy Muschietti’s previous film Mama, I still thought he did a decent job at building a sense of dread and unease. That dread sets in during the opening frames of It and never leaving until the end credits begin. It is a powerful being that can come and get you at any time, and Muschietti makes you feel that way during the entire film. There’s some creative camerawork, especially with great use of zooming dutch angles to further heighten the feeling of insecurity. Sure, there are jump scares, but he mostly utilizes them correctly after building up a lot of tension beforehand. It does get pretty campy at times, but it worked perfectly in the context of the film. It reminded me of Evil Dead like horror where the visuals and situations are somewhat silly, but the effect they’re having on the character’s mind is horrifying. 

It’s what the film is all about, though: fear, which is beautifully (and horrifically) represented in various forms, such as abstract paintings, headless corpses, blood shooting out a sink drain, and much more! It’s not just Pennywise the Clown that haunts the children, but the aspects of their deepest and darkest fears. The whole point of It is that it feeds on fear and that it’s victims are most delicious when they’re the most scared. The structuring of the film is odd at first, with each character set up with a scene where they encounter It. The first act feels like a bunch of great short films loosely strung together, but it gets more cohesive as the group forms their bond. There’s not just supernatural horror, but realistic human horror as well. While I chuckle at a cheesy CGI monster chasing a kid, I’m incredibly uncomfortable when I see a daughter be abused by her father. The fact that the film never leaves the kid’s perspectives makes it feel all the more powerful and real. When nobody else sees what you’re seeing, there’s nothing they can do to help. 

Not that they’d want to anyway, as every adult character is cartoonishly devious and/or ignorant. A lot of their dialogue is really terrible and their characterization beyond cliché. However, this film isn’t about the adults, but the about these kids and how they find an emotional connection with each other in order to conquer their fears. All of the child actors are wonderful, all with great chemistry with each other and their own distinct traits. While some of them do get a little shorted in the “things to do” department, there’s enough with our more fleshed out characters that keeps the actual story interesting. With the film focusing only on the kid’s perspectives, you really feel like a kid along on the terrifying ride with them. The film is often suspenseful because you care about the kids and feel like you’re in their position. While the film is scary, it’s has this feeling of adventure to it due to the age of the protagonists. It’s actually quite funny at times, which really lightens the dreadful mood. There’s a nice emotional core throughout with Bill trying to come to terms with Georgie’s death, which makes his goal to defeat It about more than just conquering his fear. 

Of course, It wouldn’t be It without It, and Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise is absolutely brilliant. While the design of his character was met with much derision from initial set photos, but like any performance, you really need to see him in action to get the full effect. He’s creepy, yet kind of funny. Unsettling, but has an air of whimsy surrounding him. There are a lot of subtleties in his performance, such as some of the looks of absolutely hunger he gives the children when he’s preparing to feast. He’s also over the top with his performance, too, which kind of comes with the territory of being a clown, I guess. Skarsgård really gave the perfect performance as an evil clown. He’s hilarious and fun to watch, but terrifying when he finally breaks that character. As a horror movie monster should, he has this presence that you can never shake, knowing he could pop at any moment. I can’t wait to see him return in next installment, which will apparently focus on the kids growing up and taking on It as adults.   

It is a fantastic horror film because it’s about much more than just an evil clown terrorizing kids. It’s a film that’s all about fear, both the real and the supernatural, and how those two can even be one and the same. It’s also a film about a group of children finding a connection with one another, attempting to find their places in the world. It’s simply a story about growing up, and unfortunately for some, growing up can sometimes come with a lot of terrible experiences. I just realized I use the word it over and over again there. Should I have bolded them? 

Eh, who cares? 


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