Horror films, in general, have two important tasks: One, to give the characters enough emotional resonance that you genuinely fear for their safety. Two, visuals that amplify this fear with building creeping dread and clever cinematography. Great horror films, like The Descent and Get Out, differentiate themselves from the rest by doing both of these things while telling an awesome story.
While 2017's IT does not come close to the mastery of the aforementioned films, it definitely deserves it's praise.
“We all float down here”
The town of Derry, Maine (because all Stephen King stories start in Maine) has a dark secret: the disappearance of adults is 6 times higher than the national average, and for children, the movie tells us, it is way worse.
Signposts and postboards around town are littered in nearly identical missing signs.
When a young boy goes missing, his older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) rallies his group of “Loser” friends, and together they set out on a quest to find him.
Harried by bullies, adults, and the terrifying clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), the group uncovers a horrific secret buried in the town's history.
“It's summer, we should be outside having fun!”
The writing in this movie is incredible. The group of children bickering and bantering is easily the highlight - Hell, if it were nothing more than these kids talking like kids for 2 hours, I would have been satisfied.
I would never have thought I would laugh during a movie about a killer clown, but when Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) devolves into a puddle of anxiety over his germy surroundings, the entire theater was filled with hard belly laughter. Ditto for nearly every scene Ritchie (Stranger Things' Finn Wolfhard) is in. That kid's mouth is a trash heap, and he knows it, and his friends know it, and it's just exceptional. Also, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is just adorably dweeby (wait for the perfect moment when he tries to hide his musical tastes).
On top of the horror, the film tackles the serious themes of child abuse and neglect with sympathy and cold, hard reality.
Seeing Bev (Sophia Lillis) struggle with her inner demons is enough to make one's skin crawl. Henry's (Nicholas Hamilton) struggles with his own terrors at home as well. The acting chops of these young actors are top-notch, and watching the effects of their personal struggles react to the horrors they face is heartwrenchingly brutal. Seriously, some of the adults in this movie are far more terrifying than Pennywise.
However, even with the movie's 2 hour run time, it felt like some of the other characters were sidelined. Mike (Chosen Jacobs) and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) were limited on screen time, and thus didn't see nearly as much development as the rest of the children. Doubly so for Belch (Jake Sim), Victor (Logan Thompson), and Patrick (Owen Teague), who felt like afterthoughts.
“Welcome to the Losers Club, asshole!”
And then there's Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). While his character was more one-dimensional, as a horror movie villain he was excellent. Skarsgård's portrayal really shines when he's hiding in the shadows, sowing a building dread with his menacing smile. The opening scene in particular was a great showcase for Skarsgård's talent. It's a shame the movie preferred CGI to more practical effects, as many of the jump scares (and there are TONS of them) felt cheapened by hokey bullshit visuals. And don't get me started about the dance scene...
However, the film hits far more often than it misses, and little details (like a lazy eye, and the “darklights”) were outstanding. And yes, it did give me creepy clown nightmares. So mission accomplished?
Whether or not you're a fan of the genre will determine your enjoyment of IT. Compared to any of the Paranormal Activity movies, The Purge, or tech-obsessed groanfests like Friend Request (shudder), IT is an incredible movie experience.
No, it isn't as polished as Get Out or The Descent (which are master-class lessons in horror), but it's a genuinely fun summer popcorn horror flick that's surprisingly funny and entertainingly scary.
8/10 red luftballons go by.
Writer's note: I've never seen the IT miniseries from 1990, nor have I read the Stephen King masterpiece. So some, if not most of the references to the novel are lost on me. I've been assured that it was pretty faithful to the book, with a few minor changes.