It Delivers The Scariest Clown Horror Since The Brave Little Toaster

There’s something freaky going around the town of Derry. People keep disappearing, far more than the average American town and nobody seems to really care about it. They just keep going on about their business as if nothing’s really happening. One person that’s not standing by while these disappearances just keep on happening is Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), a kid suffering from a stutter whose younger brother Georgie went missing a few months prior and now Bill is determined to find out what exactly happened to his younger sibling and try his hardest during his 1989 summer vacation to make sure no one else has to go missing under such mysterious and nefarious circumstances.

Bill isn’t alone in his quest though, as his three best friends Richie Tozer (Finn Wolfhard), Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff) and Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), team up with Bill on his newfound mission, as do new kid Benjamin Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) and Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), forming The Loser’s Club in the process. All of these kids are soon plagued by terrifying visions uniquely refined to play on their individual fears, with the common link between them being the appearance of a malevolent clown by the name of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), a relentless killing machine who devours the local children and is now bent on traumatizing and stopping The Loser’s Club.

It, an adaptation of a classic Stephen King book that updates the stories time period from the 1950’s to the 1980’s, is the newest piece of pop culture, following in the footsteps of Stranger Things and Super 8, to evoke the feeling and tone of 1980’s cinema (which was heavily dominated by Stephen King and Steven Spielberg pop culture), specifically in channeling stuff like The Goonies by depicting a bunch of Middle School aged kids going off on an adventure that is heavy on the horror and fantasy elements. Hollywood’s always had a fixation on channeling atmospheres and styles of the past for as long as we’ve been making movies and it looks like channeling this epoch of filmmaking is the newest trend in nostalgia-based cinema.

In terms of overall quality, It does not reach the heights of past similar homages like Super 8, but it’s a really good horror movie on its own merits and provides plenty of qualities of its own to make it more than just a rehash of distinctive elements from a specific era of American filmmaking. Best of all, it’s actually really scary, which I’m sure should make horror movie devotees and casual moviegoers alike cackle with glee. Yep, Pennywise lives up to the hype and becomes an incredibly scary force to be reckoned with. What’s great about this creature is how he adjusts his personality slightly for each character he encounters in the movie for the shared purpose of luring these kids into his deadly jaws.

This means he’ll act more docile and inviting to a young kid like George for instance and then act more overtly sinister when he’s trying to freak out an already terrified child trying to nurse a broken arm. This lends a sense of unpredictability to any scene that Pennywise shows up in, you really never know what this sinister force masquerading as a clown will do next. Bill Skarsgard manifests this unpredictability into a terrific performance that has him going absolutely for broke on any kind of creepiness Pennywise puts out there. This guy can dance, move his eyes around in an unsettling manner or contort his body around to creepy levels and I’m a particular fan of the voice he has for Pennywise, which gives the character a slightly exaggerated infection common in normal clowns paired with more unorthodox and unnerving vocal tics.

Skarsgard’s great as the clown and the various young actors portraying the assorted kids Pennywise terrifies are also turning in strong work. Jaeden Lieberher, after putting in a strong performance in last years Midnight Special, was a mighty fine pick for the lead role and the way he portrays the characters stuttering in a realistic manner is particularly impressive. The best of the younger actors has gotta be Sophia Lillis as Beverly, she does a great job lending some layers of personality to her turmoil filled character while additional kudos should go to Finn Wolfhard who turns out to be a lot of fun as the humorously chatty Cathy of the Losers Club.

The scenes depicting the various members of the Loser Clubs interacting together may be some of the best non-horror moments of It, there’s a real sense of authenticity in these interactions, particularly in the unpolished jokes shared by these guys, that ring true and make them feel like real human beings which is helpful in instilling some real character drama into the more frightful sequences. That having been said, certain members do feel shortchanged in terms of personality, most notably Mike who doesn’t really have much to do at all in the plot proper while other characters like Benjamin and Eddie don’t get as much to do in the third act after having a large amount of screentime in prior sections of the story.

Also problematic is director Andy Muschietti’s solid but occasionally lacking direction. He eschewed the grandiose visual stylings of his last film, Mama, for a slightly more realistic-ish visual aesthetic. There’s actually some really inventive ways of capturing the more horror-filled moments of the movie but the down-to-Earth scenes tend to have some unimaginative camerawork and the editing tends to feel similarly pedestrian in these same grounded scenes depicting the members of the Loser’s Club in their normal home lives. But thankfully, the editing and directing do come through in the scary sequences of It which are well-realized on a visual level and do have some really directing and editing to speak of. Plus, there’s still that amazing performance by Bill Skarsgard that really does just fill you with fear, it’d be hard to screw up the scares when Skarsgard is around doing his take on Pennywise. Luckily, It gives him a memorably scary and entertaining movie to inhabit, one that delivers the chills and thrills that ensure that my own personal long-standing fear of clowns will very much still be around for the near future.

  • Despite being a Stephen King fan, I never cared for visceral movie horror. So odds are I have to skip this one. What worked for me on the page without giving me much in the way of nightmares will probably not work at all on the screen. (The only time King gave me nightmares was Storm of the Century.) Beyond which, the stuff in King that is scariest has nothing to do with the supernatural, or with clowns. Bev’s father, for instance.

    Still, it’s good to hear that we might have an adaptation of IT that will please the book’s myriad fans.

    • I actually suspect it’s the fans who won’t really care for it. (I already know a couple who were disappointed, while those who haven’t read the novel seem to be more positve.) It’s not just an extremely safe adaptation, omitting everything that could make the general public uncomfortable for more than 30 seconds (so Bev’s father mostly just stares at her menacingly, Henry Bowers and Patrick Hockstetter are generic bullies, the racism against Mike is conveyed via two utterances of “Get out of my town!”, nothing more), but it notably short-changes a couple of the lead characters (especially Mike, who’s basically treated like an afterthought) and never takes time to properly establish Derry’s particular history and atmosphere.

      I also disagree with Nerd’s assertion that it tries to evoke the tone and feeling of 1980s kids-starring adventure movies – on the contrary, I’d say it deals in a very 2010s kind of bombast, with obviously digital effects, flying POV-free camera and no real moments of shagginess to speak of. And Skarsgard, while quite effective in the prologue with Georgie, simply doesn’t get to do much afterwards, acting-wise. I feel like he speaks more in that opening scene than in the entire rest of the movie.

      • Belated Comebacker

        Not that I’m planning on doing this, but I wonder if some of these obvious digital effects, flying POV-free camera movements and other moments of digital rigamarole are by-products of the director, Andres Muschietti’s, fixations. After all, his last film, “Mama”also had rather ugly, generic-looking CGI hokum (especially that last scene), with a camera all too happy to whoosh around.

        Point being, the last excellent Guillermo del Toro-produced movie, for my money, will be “The Orphanage.”

        • It seems like more of a general trend with major studio horror movies these days. The Conjuring 2 last year was similarly bombastic and exhausting. I haven’t seen Mama but surely the producers did and perhaps they did hire Muschietti because they figured they wouldn’t have to teach this guy how to make a movie more palatable to the general audience. Certainly Cary Fukunaga would have insisted on doing something very different. (And man, how I wish we got to see his version.)

          • Not that I want to bash James Wan’s work, but I’m quite exhausted with the whole Conjuring universe and have found each return to it to be diminishing and dull.

          • thesplitsaber

            ‘the whole Conjuring universe’

            ugh hahaha

      • I’d say the aesthetic seems disingenuous in comparison to something like Stranger Things, which really does nail the 80s atmosphere and look even when it’s references might be a little too on the nose. There were camera angles that didn’t work well, too many tilts that would make it very obvious that we were supposed to be scared in this moment because the camera and lighting say so. And I agree that Skarsgard doesn’t get a lot to do unfortunately.

        This all said I still had a lot of fun with the movie and it did have a few moments that made me jump out of my seat. This is one of those King books I haven’t actually read personally so as far as the movie goes, I was really behind the idea of kids having a representation of things they are afraid of be manifested into actual things which as a kid would be genuinely horrifying on its own even without a clown trying to kill you.