We all know there is something seriously wrong with Derry. But is it wrong to tell the town’s morbid story to a modern audience? Absolutely not! Stephen King’s chilling tale of a town plagued by a great child-abducting monster has been revamped and put back onto big screens with director Andy Muschietti coolly steering audiences down a highway of classic horror.
Beginning with that memorable scene of the clown in the storm drain, the film is the first chapter in the story. A year after the disappearance of his brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) is still grappling with the mystery. But when he and his friends each start to see horrifying visions featuring a creepy clown, the question of who, or what, took Georgie becomes clear. There is something seriously wrong in Derry. As Bill, Bev (Sophia Lillis, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Richie (Fin Wolfhard), Stan (Wyatt Oleff), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Mike (Chosen Jacobs) go over the town’s history, they discover that their clown is really a horrible monster that is responsible for every massacre and bout of strange disappearances in Derry. Only coming out once every 27 years, It’s feeding again, abducting children left, right, and centre, and the group takes it upon themselves to rid the town of It for good.
It proves to be a good horror movie for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s a great multidimensional story, puffed up by layers and layers of horror, both supernatural, and real. At its core, it’s a story about kids dealing with evilness: the power of their fear, but also the power of their innocence and sense of right and wrong. Whilst the monster is the physical beast that must be slain, it’s also a manifestation of each character’s worst fears: ones which they are constantly trying to combat day-to-day and this duality works overtime by being a compelling physical story that audiences can watch, and shaping the characters and developing them within a feature-length runtime.
Secondly, the source material largely lends itself to cinematic interpretation and adaptation. The tropes of classic horror are all at work: the sinisterness of children being abducted, domestic violence, abjection (classically for King, in the form of wicked parents), the Uncanny, and practically every form of monster you could want. On both the written and visual level, It delivers, with the special effects wizards really getting to have some fun with the revamping of Pennywise.
Thirdly: the villain. Whilst Pennywise is a manifestation of fear itself, he’s one of the most recognisable villains in horror movie history. A little reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing, in that we don’t get to see It’s actual form, he’s more than just a clown with creepy makeup. Pennywise is probably one of the best examples of the Uncanny within the horror genre: we associate clowns with laughter and the entertainment of children, but this is completely flipped around and made unfamiliar with the clown suddenly having rows and rows of razor sharp teeth, which he uses to latch on to kids and dismember them. Bill Skarsgard’s rendition of Pennywise steers away from the camp-but-still-scary performance of Tim Curry (It, 1990) and delivers a little more horror than humour, though he doesn’t shy away from dropping a good real estate gag. There’s still laughter and sweet-talk to the kids, but there’s a distinct sinisterness behind everything Skarsgard says, which makes him a much creepier Pennywise.
And fourthly, the film is an example of going back to basics. Classic and nowadays, overdone, genre tricks are used throughout It, but what’s nice is that it’s all done in a relatively tasteful way. Whilst one can get sick of the haunting music crescendos and the slow camera roll down the dark and empty corridor leading to only still toys or a room void of any monster, the suspense is built up really well and the movie does not rely on jump scares to get the thrills. Don’t think that there aren’t any jump scares in the movie, there are plenty, but they’re not used as a cheat to get a quick scare.
It proves to be a solid horror movie, doing practically everything right. Does the choice to tell the kids’ story first and then tell the adult story second benefit the tale or hinder it? We’ll have to wait for the next movie and see.