It is going to go down as a classic for the genre. The TV film of the same name starring Tim Curry as Pennywise has haunted folks dreams for years, but this new adaptation of the classic novel from Stephen King feels like a breath of fresh air into a genre that some may feel was sorely needed.
Scaring people is tough for the horror genre right now. It’s not for a lack of trying, but the problem is that right now there is too much emphasis on gore and CGI, jump-scares, and shaky cams. Many people making these films nowadays are forgetting the true essence of horror: we want to sit in that seat and be unnerved. Feel uncomfortable. And throwing random objects and noises at us is not gonna do it. There has to be meaning, so that we give ourselves over to the story unfolding in front of our eyes. Not that we can’t remember that it is just a movie; we don’t want to. And that is what sets It apart from most modern horror films.
By the last act of the film, every single thing that happens to the kids of the Losers Club feels like a shot to the gut. These kids, all seven of them, grow in front of our eyes. They experience deeply disturbing traumas, form crushes, become brave, and form a deep and meaningful relationship with us.
They could not have nailed the casting for the kids any more than they did. All of them: Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Wyatt Oleff all turn in the kind of performance that makes you want to give them a standing ovation when the credits start to roll.
Lieberher has one of the better hero arcs I have seen in a film in quite a while. Oleff and Jacobs don’t have as much screen time as some of the others, but they make the most of every scene they’re in. Taylor is endearing right from his introduction, and Grazer and Wolfhard play so well off each other. Wolfhard shows off a quick wit we did not get to see in Stranger Things. Taylor is a perfect Eddie; whenever I read the book from now on, he is who I will see in my mind’s eye.
The bullies also get time to shine, as well, with Nicholas Hamilton turning in a fantastic performance as the tortured and horrible Henry Bowers. He’s almost as scary as Pennywise. The scene where he finally goes off is one of the standouts of the film.
A special shout-out here for Sophia Lillis. Mark my words: she is going to be a huge star. She is a giant in every scene she’s in, and it looks completely effortless. Her Beverly is now one of my favorite horror characters of all time. Never have I felt so affected by someone in horror film like this.
Their bond with each other, as well as how rich their characters are, makes Pennywise all the more terrifying.
When the film begins with (spoilers) the famous Georgie death scene, I became worried we may be in for a bumpy ride. I didn’t like how this scene was shot; the sound mix seemed off, and it was the only time in the film’s runtime that I felt like we might be in some trouble here. But as the film goes on, it quickly finds its groove.
Bill Skarsgård introduces us to his version of Pennywise with a whimper instead of a roar, but thinking on it some more, that might have been on purpose. As the film continues, we see lots of Pennywise and we grow with him, as well. As he becomes more powerful through fear, the film feeds off our fascination of him.
Some will argue that we see him too much and that his major scenes before the climax are just cheap jump scares. I vehemently disagree. What may start with a jump scare evolves into psychological torment. In most horror, we leave the scene after the boogeyman pops out to something else. Here we start that way, but by the end, we stay with the scene. There is nowhere to run; nowhere to hide. We will suffer along with our heroes because Pennywise The Dancing Clown demands it. And that is because Skarsgård unhinges himself and throws everything he has into this.
To compare Skarsgård’s Pennywise to Curry’s is not only unfair, but impractical. They are playing way different versions of the same entity. It is not about who is better or equal to the other, both are great for different reasons and should be judged that way.
Everything about the production feels grand in scale in the smallest of settings. This film is gorgeous. Sure, they can spend as little as possible on films like Annabelle: Creation and get great results, but that can trap your story and make it feel small and claustrophobic. The town of Derry feels alive and has its own personality.
Director Andy Muschietti does a perfect job shrinking and expanding the scenes when appropriate to the story, and blows it all out at the end with some of the most haunting and moving scenes in a horror film in a good long while. Between dick jokes, New Kids On The Block references (there are a lot of those, and they all great), and sinister one-liners from Pennywise, the script shines and is endlessly quotable.
A big part of me wishes there wouldn’t be a second film. At this point, I can’t see how they can cast these kids as adults and have them affect the audience as well as these kids do. That is a problem that the original faced, and it’ll be interesting to see how they handle that. But as far as this one goes, aside from that little bit of a bumpy start, It soars to heights that more than lived up to the hype for me. This is one of my favorite films of the year so far, and would not be surprised if it stays on top at the end. I practically floated out of the theater.
You’ll float too.
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