For much of the 21st century the horror film has been losing a lot of its credibility. Though the habit began in the 80s after the advent of the slasher flick and its ceaseless sequels, the inundation of unoriginal derivatives, spin-offs, and resurrecting reboots of franchises better left dead has sent the genre towards the independent realm where flicks like The Witch and It Follows reign supreme.
So selling Stephen King’s It was never going to be an easy task, especially when you realize this is a major studio picture. King alone doesn’t quite hold the same menace as he once did, especially after a long string of mediocre adaptations and an even longer time since someone could properly adapt one of his horror novels.
But It is different because it encompasses a different realm than most works of horror—it is about childhood, growing up, and learning to stand up to our demons even when nobody else believes in you. And that’s where It truly shines.
The first of two parts, Andy Muschietti’s It strikes a superb balance between summer-time nostalgia (think Super 8 and Stand By Me) and intense, jumpy scares from the modern horror flick. Is it the scariest movie ever? Hardly, but it’s still a whole lot of fun.
It’s tough making something scary when it has already been apart of pop culture for over three decades in the form of a book, and for almost just as long as a TV mini-series. Yet somehow Bill Skarsgard, not only fills Tim Curry’s masterful role as Pennywise with ease, but also brings him to terrifying new heights for an entirely new generation. Wild-eyed, goofy, and entirely insane, Pennywise haunts the children with such glee and malice that you feel his presence in every scene, even if he isn’t there.
But as good as Pennywise is, the kids (well, most of them) are completely unforgettable. From the New Kids on the Block-loving Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), to the big-mouthed, insult-spewing Richie (Stranger Thing’s Finn Wolfhard), the stutterer Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), the wrongly-judged Bev (Sophia Lillis), the homeschooler Mike (Chosen Jacobs), the germaphobe Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and the little-seen Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), this is as good a cast of kid actors as there has been for quite some time.
They all work so well together trading insults and jabs that this very well could have been one of the best comedies of the year if you took out all the scary stuff. They all get a chance in the spotlight, save for Stanley, which is rather impressive. While much has been left in the novel in terms of backstory, not a whole lot is actually changed. We just don’t get all the details that really shape these kids into the Losers Club, but hopefully the second part will fill in some of the holes.
To say that there was a lot riding against It being successful would be an understatement. A rocky production which saw script and director changes is one thing, but when it is a big-budget horror film from one of the most recognizable (and inconsistently adapted) authors starring a bunch of nobodies and marketed as one of the biggest movies of the year to me spelled disaster right from the beginning. But through the magical combination of Muschietti, Skarsgard, and the entire cast of kids, It is a frighteningly fantastic movie. Bring It (Chapter 2) on.