I’m not going to mince words, I’m just going to say it – Apart from The Witch, IT is one of, if not the, best horror movies to have come out in recent years. It gives other horror heavy hitters like The Conjuring, and the Insidious movies, a run for their money.
The hype generated by this movie was astronomical, to say the least, and holy shit, it delivers, and more. Andy Muschietti, with this, has established himself as one of the most capable horror directors working today. Based off of the first half of Stephen King’s novel, IT deals with a bunch of kids, who discover strange things going on in their town, and decide to investigate them. All roads lead to the eponymous creature, who appears to its victims, as Pennywise, the Dancing Clown. And in true underdog fashion, the bunch of kids succeed in taking It down.
The second such adaptation of the novel (first being the miniseries starring Tim Curry), IT had a lot to live up to, considering Tim Curry’s cult status as Pennywise. Not having seen the miniseries, I’m in no position to compare them, but, from what I’ve seen, and heard, the miniseries was more funny, rather than scary. The movie, on the other hand, is a terrifying, but highly rewarding, thrill ride.
There are several possible reasons, as to why IT succeeds, not only as a horror movie, but as a movie in general.
1. The Humour Factor
What caught me off guard, was the humour, which was surprising. Horror and humour don’t usually go well; it could end up backfiring, or could go really well (a la Cabin in the Woods). Thankfully, IT falls in the latter category. It wasn’t overdone, and it helped balance the tone of the movie, by punctuating the horrifying sequences with schoolboy humour. While some may dismiss it as overbearing, and complain about it bringing the movie down, I absolutely didn’t mind it, and thought it improved the movie. You’ve got to admit, it’s charming to watch middle schoolers unleash their inner Samuel L. Jackson.
2. The Filmmaking
Muschietti’s previous outing, Mama, was a competently made horror flick. Not too good to be memorable, not too bad to be forgotten, just okay. But one thing which that movie pretty much nailed, was the overall atmosphere, and feel. The colour palette was dark, and muted, which only added to the atmosphere.
But here, in IT, he knocks it out of the park. There’s a strong undercurrent of dread throughout the runtime of the movie; even the daytime shots have an unsettling vibe to them, which is commendable, in and of itself.
All this is through solid cinematography, sound design, and editing. These three are the yardsticks by which any horror movie should be measured by, and IT more than meets the mark.
Another thing I loved, and not many horror movies do this; it goes places. It’s got things other movies would generally shy away from. It pulls no punches, when it comes to gore and viscera. The Witch was another movie which did this, in the opening 10 minutes, and IT does that too. How often do you see a 7 year old get his arm ripped off, and then be pulled into a drain by a shape-shifting monster?
3. The Acting
The acting, across the board, is top-notch. The kids do a fantastic job at portraying their characters, which says a lot, considering how 90% of the cast comprises of kids. The child actors basically carried the movie on their shoulders, and they did a phenomenal job. Finn Wolfhard’s foul-mouthed Richie Tozier is probably the one audiences would remember, and his performance stands out from the rest of the kids, because of his turn in Stranger Things, as Mike Wheeler.
It’s a shame not all of them get proper character development, but that’s a minor nitpick in an otherwise flawless movie. They have promising careers ahead of them. The supporting cast does a good enough job, sadly, not much can be said about them, since the majority of the movie focuses on the kids. The standout performance, and one that will become a future horror icon, is that of Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise. More on that later.
4. The Hype
When was the last time a horror movie generated this kind of hype? 190 million views on the teaser trailer on YouTube, beating the likes of Star Wars, and Fate of the Furious. A brilliant marketing campaign, with the marketing team tying red balloons to manhole covers. The challenge of filling, or at least trying to fill, Tim Curry’s huge shoes. Movies with such hype behind them run the risk of being slightly above average, or worse. The world was expecting IT to be nothing short of perfect. And it was. I have no doubt, that this will make a killing at the box office, and it’s undoubtedly one of the year’s best movies.
5. The Horror Elements
What might turn a lot of people off of this movie, is how few and far the horror sequences are. But what’s great is, that even though these sequences are spread across the movie, when they come, they hit hard. Georgie, the 7 year old, getting his arm ripped off only set the ball rolling, for other horrific shit to happen to the rest of the kids.
One particular scene deserves massive praise, and that’s the slide projector scene in the garage.
That was pure horror gold. The set-up, the conclusion, it was done to perfection. It needs to be seen to believed. Another scene, which I thought was a nice callback to The Shining, another Stephen King adaptation, was the scene where the blood gushes from the sink and proceeds to paint the bathroom red. This felt like the scene in The Shining where the elevator doors open, and blood begins to flow through them, to the passageway. Intentional or not, it was a neat scene, and one of the more gory scenes. Some people might acquire coulrophobia after watching IT, and that won’t be surprising. Not one bit. And that lady with the flute, pure nightmare fuel.
And now, the main attraction,
Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise absolutely nails it. I’ll go so far as to say he was better than Tim Curry’s iteration of Pennywise. I couldn’t believe how much fun I had, seeing Pennywise on screen, doing terrifying things to the children. His introduction, in the sewer, talking to Georgie, has to be one of the most memorable character interactions in movies. He has the perfect blend of menace, glee, wickedness, and unsettling terror, as Pennywise, compared to Curry’s wisecracking Pennywise. If Curry’s iteration of Pennywise was akin to Nicholson’s portrayal of The Joker, Skarsgard’s iteration is akin to Ledger’s. It’s that good. That’s all you need to know.
I enjoyed his performance as Pennywise, and I had a silly grin throughout most of the movie’s runtime. Pennywise is a modern horror icon, and in a few years, he will be spoken of, in the same breath as Freddy Krueger, and Jason Voorhees. What elevates his performance to this status, is the fact that his first appearance on set, in front of the kids, made the child actors cry in the middle of takes. It was so unsettling, even for the actors. Now, if this isn’t impressive enough, I don’t know what is.
IT had a lot to live up to, and it did. It’s not only one of the best horror movies in ages, but one of the best movies of the year. You’ll be doing yourselves a disservice by not watching IT. Go see it.