Everything scared me as a kid.
I feared the creatures from Scooby-Doo, the monstrous beings from The Grimm Adventures of Billy and Mandy, and the twisted thoughts of R.L. Stine in his Goosebumps books. All of those things kept me up for countless nights, and yet I still watched and read and watched again.
Being scared was, and still is, fun. Unfortunately, finding a legitimate scare nowadays is incredibly difficult, especially in cinema. After 2015’s Indie Horror Film It Follows, I worried it might be a very long time before a movie leaves me even moderately unnerved after leaving the theater. It is for this reason that I wholeheartedly thank Stephen King and director Andrés Muschietti for thoroughly frightening me with their new adaptation of It.
The fear that this film incites in the hearts of its viewers is not a dread-like fear, but an exhilarating one. Every time a good scare got me, I grinned ear-to-ear in appreciation for it. This was no jump scare extravaganza like we have all become accustomed to, but a horror film that’s so creepy that it’s more effective than any cheap volume spike or sudden movement. Pennywise the Dancing Clown, played by Bill Skarsgård, is so brilliantly terrifying that every time he rears his ugly head I get genuinely excited to see what he will do. This movie made me feel like a kid again, and that was exactly what everyone involved in its creation wanted.
I knew exactly what I was in for as soon as the opening scene began. The audience follows a young child as he goes to retrieve something from his basement. Instead of boring us with a clichéd opening where the monster reveals itself immediately in obnoxiously tame fashion, It opts for a slow burn. Being a young, easily scared child, the boy spooks himself by simply perceiving household objects as much scarier than they are. I found myself grinning during this scene as I saw a younger version of me being frightened by absolutely nothing but his own mind.
Speaking of mind games, this film doles out an intense dose of sensory overload to the viewer. The scenes involving each character’s individual fears, which Pennywise uses to ripen them for consumption, are rapid-fire paced and on the brink of confusing. The creatures move in a creepy, albeit clichéd, stop motion type gait and the editing cuts are plentiful, giving the scenes the feeling of chaotic panic felt by those experiencing it within the film’s universe.
Not only was the editing great, but the actors bringing the terror to life on screen were utterly phenomenal. It isn’t often that I see child actors truly shine on the big screen, but somehow It managed to cast more than a dozen of them with talent far beyond their years. There was not a single scene in this film where I felt that the children were anything but the characters they were portraying. But, I can’t give them all of the credit.
The biggest compliment here goes to the writers, because they showed an understanding of how kids act and interact that Hollywood rarely, if ever, captures. The dialogue was seamlessly childish and no-holds-bar, imputing the typical teenage overusage of swear words and consistent, if not relentless, “sex with family members” jokes between characters. This style of writing gave the kids personalities that were entirely relatable to just about every possible viewer.
The frights in this movie are absolutely top notch, and felt deserved and respectful to the audience in comparison to most cheap horror movie jump-scares. Even when said jump-scares are used, they are witnessed by both the characters and the audience, which puts the viewers into the action themselves and adds to the realism (if you can call a film about a demon clown realistic).
The film has a breakneck stride, and there is hardly any downtime to catch your breath between those fantastic scares because boring filler was left out of the script. The only backstories we are shown of the characters are ones that immediately pertain to, or have created, their fears. The true depth of the storytelling comes in the Andrés Muschietti’s ability to depict each child as a product of their fears and build the amalgamation of them all as a single character rather than each individual alone.
It is much less an account of a monster terrorizing children, but a tale of children growing together to fight back against their fears.
Along with all of those things, the animated and practical effects were fantastic, and there was really only one instance where a scene lost its immersion because of bad CGI. The makeup for Pennywise was fantastic, so good in fact that I was unable to identify Bill Skarsgård as the face of the clown until I looked up the cast after I saw the film.
It is fantastic. It is terrifying. It is a horror masterpiece, dare I say It. Sorry, I can’t help It.
All jokes aside, see this film. Give this movie as much money as you can so that Hollywood will finally understand what it takes to make a non-pandering, unique horror film. Even if you are genuinely afraid of movies like this, see It. I promise, It’s worth It.