Movie Review: It
By Matthew Huntley
September 20, 2017
As a Hollywood horror remake, “It” accomplishes many things, but perhaps the two most surprising are that it: 1) improves upon the original; and 2) it's actually scary. In an ideal world, both of these qualities would be a given, because, if you think about it, the movie is simply doing what it's supposed to do. But, as we all know, Hollywood movies don't always do what they're supposed to do. “It” does, and more.
What's most impressive is just how well made the film is when measured on a scale beyond its genre, which might be hard to imagine given its content. It's well directed and edited; it features strong, nuanced performances from a young, mostly inexperienced cast; and the production values, including the special effects, are atmospheric and convincing. Plus, in addition to horror, it has elements of drama, comedy and romance. In a way, “It” is a horror movie for people who don't go to horror movies, because even they'll find something to take away from it.
The film is, of course, based on Stephen King's best-selling 1986 novel, the first half of which follows a group of grade-school children as they're terrorized by an evil entity in the small Maine town of Derry. The insidious being primarily takes the shape of a hideous clown, although it can manifest itself as any frightful construction, which it does in order to lure the kids to its underground lair, where it “feeds” on their fear and eventually murders them.
One can imagine, given the popularity of King's novel and the beloved TV miniseries from 1990, how much pressure the filmmakers must have felt to deliver a sound, updated adaptation of this material. And one of the ways they prove they're up to the task is by how effectively paced the film is. It's patient and rhythmic, taking its time to build tension and then release it in small sprints before going all out during the exciting climax, which is full-blooded and intense, both physically or dramatically. So often these days horror films attempt to shock and/or gross out the audience over and over again until we become numb and bored. Here, the thrills and scares are spaced out and targeted so they become effectual and disturbing.
The structure of King's novel, unread by me, fortunately allows the screenplay by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman to constantly refresh itself as it introduces and develops each of the child characters. Having essentially seven protagonists could have been too much since there's so much ground to cover, but director Andy Muschietti and editor Jason Ballantine are careful not to let scenes get shortchanged, feel rushed, drawn out, or redundant. They give each of the kids' stories a nice balance of horror and drama, and sometimes romance and comedy. This variety of elements gives the overall film a lot of energy and flow.
It helps too that the young cast is so dedicated and in touch with their characters' dilemmas. They seem genuinely scared and anxious on-screen, which in turn infects us. Their story begins in 1988 when It, taking the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown (a very creepy and effective Bill Skarsgard) murders Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott), younger brother of Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), a stutterer who becomes the unofficial leader of the kids pack. This incident begins Pennywise's reign of terror over the next year as it invades the lives of Bill and his friends.