When the biggest complaint one might have walking out of a horror movie is that the film might feature too many scares per minute, then that film has done its job.
It’s an unimaginably tough task to tackle the first half of a 1100-page beloved novel and condense it to a two hour and 15 minute film. Yet, the Andy Muschietti-directed It not only lives up to the hype, but is also the best Stephen King adaptation outside of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
Because the film only features the younger characters’ stories — rather than their adult form, which will be in Part Two — it feels like a darker, more horrific Stand By Me. Following the teenage Losers Club searching for Bill’s (Jaeden Lieberher) younger brother Georgie, as well as the other countless missing children during the summer of 1989 in Derry, Maine, the film spends a significant amount of time developing the town and these young heroes.
Thankfully, this pays off in dividends in the emotional arcs of each one of the seven child actors. When the film slowly reveals the traumatic home lives of each one of the kids — parents might be just as harmful as the infamous monster — this adds a palpable sense of empathy for the kids and, most terrifyingly, a real sense of fear and despair when they’re haunted by “It.”
Which leads to what everyone wants to know: how is Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, or “It”?
The answer: horrifically stunning. The performance is a masterclass in physical and vocal tics. The terrifyingly realized character never feels forced in its manipulative dialogue (“You’ll Float Too” is the stuff of nightmares here) or unhinged movements — elements incredibly captured by the intensely focused cinematography from Park Chan-Wook regular Chung-hoon Chung. While Tim Curry’s memorable version of the character may have provided the voice Bill Skarsgård (sometimes) uses, this film and the performance get under your skin much more effectively here. Think what Heath Ledger did for The Joker in comparison Jack Nicholson, in the fact that Ledger brought real anarchy and terror to the character — and that’s what Skarsgard does for Pennywise.
If anything though, the scares — which come fast and often — threaten to overtake the strong character development that Muschietti so wisely sets up in this first part. And the solid (but not great) CGI breaks immersion at points, especially when Bill Skarsgård’s natural portrayal is scarier than anything a computer can whip up.
All in all though, It is an event-horror movie that we rarely get. With all of the hype surrounding the film, it was potentially easy to whiff — killing any desire for a sequel. Instead, it’s a rare jump-scare horror movie that earns its audience’s emotion for both thrills, laughs and tears. And that makes it one of the better studio films of 2017 and the rare situation where a much needed follow-up may just make the full experience ever greater.
Featured image via Warner Bros.