We are in the midst of a Horror Movie revival. It’s been a good decade to be a horror fan and yet even among such excellent contemporaries, IT proves to be a real treat. Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, IT preys on a fairly common fear of clowns but you would be mistaken if you thought this was only about a killer clown. IT is also an interesting commentary on how frightening and raw childhood can be when the adults who should cherish and protect kids are either absent or fail in their charge. While the film is a recipe for nightmares, surprising sources of warmth and humor are sprinkled in that gives IT an endearing element one does not often expect from its genre.
The cast is truly an ensemble and though there is a clear leader to our protagonists (dubbed “The Losers Club”), no one outshines the others. Bill, Ben, Beverly, Richie, Stan, Mike, and Eddie all get a chance to shine and stand out as definitively unique from one another. Each child has an identifiable struggle that makes them relatable and they conversely have different strengths that help them function as a team. Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things fame stands out from his peers as particularly entertaining. It’s difficult enough getting one solid performance from a child actor, it’s nearly impossible to have all your leads so well-played by child actors and yet Director Andy Muschietti manages to coax solid performances from all these kids.
On the other side of the cast is Bill Skarsgård who plays the titular monster. This is, wisely, not Tim Curry, and it’s better for it. Rather than do a pale imitation of previous performances, Bill chose to make the role his own and carries the weight of the role with unnerving charisma. Some of his actions elicit uncomfortable chuckles that are a mixture of dark humor and honest to goodness horror. Fans of the book and the 90s TV special will be able to provide a more definite explanation as what exactly It is, but this film (being but one of two parts) wisely holds back on fully explaining the monster, its origins, and all of its powers. What is given to the viewer is just enough to ensure continued engagement and Skarsgård absolutely kills it as the child-eating monster.
IT is also remarkably well-paced so that exposition lands and is often accompanied by a tone of uneasiness. The very nature of the titular monster ensures that the viewer rarely feels safe or comfortable. Yet there are glimpses of something very different from horror and the closest one could come to explain it would be a friendship adventure flick in the mold of The Goonies. There is a surprising amount of character development in this film which exists in a genre famous for painting pale archetypes only to sacrifice them on the altar of audience blood-lust. Instead, we come to really know and sympathize with The Losers Club and, as a consequence of that, as much of the horror comes from concern for the characters as it does from creatively terrifying imagery. This is a group of kids not unlike the group of kids many of us grew up around and so threats to them feel deeply personal.
Scare Factor: 3/5
IT is a standout film in a genre that is already flooded with great films. The cast is well-rounded and perfectly capable, its production quality is peerless, and its terrors are potent. Whether or not you are a horror film, you owe it to yourself to see this one. It’s an event film on par with any blockbuster.