In 1989, seven young teenagers come together to defeat an ancient evil entity that lurks beneath their small town. The monster takes many forms but prefers to appear as an eerie clown called Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). After Pennywise claims the life of young Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott), his older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) gathers his friends and goes hunting for the monster they call IT.
Horror Treated Right
Stephen King’s IT is an epic tome that treats the horror genre with reverence and respect. It’s only fitting that a big screen adaptation of the book should do the same. And by every measure, IT does exactly that.
Director Andy Muschietti approaches the material as if he’s making the Lord of the Rings of horror movies. Elements of dark fantasy and perilous adventure are ever-present and that elevates IT into something much more than your usual horror movie. This isn’t a typical date night spookfest; IT utilizes jump scares effectively but sparingly, choosing instead to hone in on terrifying imagery and oppressive atmosphere.
And that imagery is HARSH.
The 1990 miniseries was handicapped by virtue of being a television movie, and it wasn’t able to accurately display the horrendous consequences of a monster who feeds on children. Muschietti’s film steps out of the gate with one of the most shocking scenes in modern horror history. And the film doesn’t let up; there are multiple moments of jaw-dropping violence and bone-chilling gruesomeness in regards to children in this film. That dedication to the gut-churning evil of the movie makes the terror feel so real. You get the feeling that anyone could be killed, and that makes every tense scene that much more nerve-racking.
Plus, it really helps when you have characters you love.
The Losers’ Club
And trust me, you are going to love the Losers’ Club. All seven kids get to act like real children instead of child actors, and that makes them feel like they stepped right out of some ’80s film. It’s not exaggerative to say these kids evoke the camaraderie felt in Stand By Me, The Goonies, or the recent IT-inspired Stranger Things. Admittedly, some of the members shine more than others, but that’s never so damning that it derails them as a cohesive unit. This is the first time in a while that kids have felt like genuine kids in a horror movie.
But what about their adversary, Pennywise?
The Next Freddy Krueger
Pennywise the Dancing Clown is one of the greatest villains in all of fiction. It’s the role that makes or breaks the entire story. Bill Skarsgård was a left-field choice for the role, but it was absolutely the right choice. Skarsgård has created a monster that will become the horror icon of an entire generation. There are clear inspirations from A Nightmare on Elm Street in the film — including a cute theater marquee nod — and it’s not hard to see Skarsgård as this generation’s Freddy Krueger.
Everything about Skarsgård is perfect; his vocal performance is bubbly and childlike but conceals a growling beast underneath, his body language feels spry and utterly inhuman, and his clear love of being evil bursts through at every possible moment. Much like Heath Ledger’s Joker or Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter, Skarsgård’s Pennywise will become an immortal screen villain that will haunt us for ages to come.
Is IT Good?
No joke: IT is an all-timer. This is a film that has been given the A+ treatment and that shows in every frame. If this had been made in the 1980s, we’d be hailing it as a horror classic. The production, the performances, the visuals, the story, the horror, and everything else gels together into one of the best Stephen King movies ever made.
I’m actually worried about the eventual second part of the story because the bar has been set very, very high. If the studio bumps up the budget even more and lets Muschietti go truly wild, we could be looking at a duology of films that are game-changers for the horror genre. Bring it on.