IT (2017) is probably one of the more surprising horror films to come out in recent memory. While following a more traditional horror formula, it never allowed itself to feel stale or tired. Every time the movie “scared” you, it felt earned and real instead of cheap. IT brilliantly balances humor and horror in a way that most films can’t seem to ever get right. This is the film that every one deserved in 1990 when the TV mini-series aired on ABC, because this is actually a horror film that truly establishes genuine fear for some audience members. This is the movie that genuinely makes clowns scary like everyone claims Stephen King’s novel did for them.
Not enough can ever be said for how good the cast is in this film. The child actors look like true professionals and do a spectacular job each and every time they are on screen. Finn Wolfhard, of Stranger Things fame, shines as always, being the comical anchor that alleviates the tension beautifully throughout the movie. Sophia Lillis is the one that truly stands out above the others as Beverly. Every time she was on screen you knew she was going to do an amazing job. If she continues as she is now there is no doubt she will be a special talent on the silver screen for years to come. This cast of kids is so talented and deep that even the kid that played the bully, Nicholas Hamilton, knocked it out of the park being despicable, as he terrified the “Losers' Club”, or sympathetic when he shows vulnerability and trauma while his dad tortures him. The weight of the emotions he was able to show even escapes the talents of a lot of adult actors. Probably the most controversial casting in the movie is Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise, the dancing clown. Controversial only because people think they remembered being terrified of Tim Curry as Pennywise in the TV mini-series, and that no one could ever top him, even though he gave a lackluster performance and isn’t scary in the slightest. Skarsgård portrays Pennywise with almost surgical and masterful skill. While the make-up and design team do deserve a ton of credit for his over aesthetic (which helps with his fear- instilling performance), his vocal performance combined with his facial and body expressions are what will be in the nightmares of many a moviegoer. Where Curry went with a deep raspy tone with his voice, Skarsgård goes slightly higher with it which makes it more unsettling. It feels like he is an evil being trying to sound child- like, which helps with the whole "clown" persona.
While the story does deviate a bit more from the original book than it’s previous version, it feels like it does so with a purpose. Moving the time period to the 80s helps more audience members connect with it because its target audience would be people who were kids in the 80s/early 90s and would have more vivid memories of what it’d be like. There were some other changes that are directly story related and slightly spoilerish, but they don’t hurt the film in any sort of way so they don’t specifically need to be brought up. Director Andy Muschietti does a masterful job of balancing tension, humor, and heart. The scares felt earned and purposeful, without faking it to get cheap jumps. They don’t even use the music to falsely build the tension to give a fake out. The movie also provides intermittent laughs throughout that help dissolve some of the tension, so when they need to elevate it again it has somewhere to actually go. This combined with the scenes of the kids doing average late 80s kid stuff really adds a heartfelt base that allows the other moments to be felt more.
IT made the most of its budget by making a highly polished film feel grimy and visceral. Some aspects of the effects felt slightly cheesy, but the type of cheese that feels right at home in the 80s setting of the film. Sometimes it even helped the film amp up its horror elements. One point in the movie has Pennywise doing a clown dance that starts with a feeling of silliness, but by the end of it fills you with a sense of dread because of how disturbing it becomes without changing too much with what is going on. The design of Pennywise himself truly adds to how scary he is. The lines from the corner of his mouth are small but amazing touches that enhance what Skarsgård is doing with his face. When he smiles, the lines make it seem more grandiose. When it changes to a scowl, however, the lines accentuate his eyes and make them more piercing like he is staring deep into your soul.
Overall this movie is all you could hope for and then some. The acting is spectacular across the board, the directing balances every scene in a perfect way that allows them to blend together to tell the story with clarity and ferocity, and the story itself is a harmonious narrative with horror, humor, and heart that makes it a wonderful film. This movie is subtle, yet in your face. Tense and heartfelt. Scary and funny. Clowns finally have a reason to be seen as scary and it took a movie in 2017 to finally do it.
47 New Kids on the Block posters out of 50. (94%)