Stephen King movies never come out quietly. You’d think a man with that much source material would incite nothing but boredom at the announcement of a new film, and yet, we always get swept up in the madness. Sometimes it’s because they’re shockingly bad (e.g. Maximum Overdrive) and sometimes it’s because they’re so good they redefine the genre (e.g. The Shining). I don’t think IT is going to change the way we make horror movies, and I don’t think it will have much appeal outside of the usual genre fanatics/teens trying to scare each other, but it perfects the style of films James Wan has made popular. With The Conjuring, Wan kicked off a new era of smart, funny and stylish horror movies full of iconic scares. IT‘s director Andres Muschietti continues that tradition while ramping the horror up to a whole new level.
IT is a movie whose body count seems higher than it actually is, because the horror never really stops. Right out of the gate, we get the death and disappearance of Georgie, a little boy who is pulled into the sewers by Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard). Georgie’s older brother, Bill, is left shaken after Georgie’s disappearance and begins to obsessively study the sewers under Derry, Maine. He pulls his group of ragtag best friends, Ritchie and Eddie, into his hunt, and soon their group is joined by outcasts Beverly, Ben, and Mike as they start to realize they are the ones being hunted. Pennywise is a shapeshifter, which means not only do we get to spend plenty of time staring at Bill Skarsgard’s delightfully creepy face, but there are a few other monsters running around as well.
Those scares come at a fast clip. It feels like every 10 to 15 minutes there’s a new reason to scream and cover your eyes. The audience I saw it with was made up of stuffy film critics (mostly kidding), but I can imagine seeing this movie with a regular audience would be a ball. It’s fast-paced nature is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it makes the two hour and fifteen minute runtime fly by, but it also means that Muschietti doesn’t follow the rules put out by movies like Jaws and Alien. He doesn’t wait to show off Pennywise. He doesn’t draw out the reveal and coast on the tension. He injects Pennywise into almost every scene. You spend so much damn time with that clown, it shouldn’t be scary, but it is. Skarsgard’s performance crackles with energy. He’s a complete lunatic who carries himself like a city destroying monster. Pennywise might not actually be much bigger than the children who are fighting him, but his shadow looms over Derry like Godzilla.
At least, it feels that way up until the very end. Muschietti is able to keep Pennywise scary for longer than you’d think, but the final showdown did leave me wanting more. In my heart of hearts, I was waiting for a Lovecraftian-esque, The Thing transformation. I wanted to see Pennywise pop into something completely inhuman, and while we sort of get glimpses of the giant intergalactic spider in King’s novel, it wasn’t enough to top the scare before that or the scare before that.
Thankfully, the kids pick up the slack. King might be famous for messing up the ending, but he writes children so well, and that bleeds into this movie. One minute you’re looking right into the gaping maw of Pennywise and the next you’re cracking up at a New Kids On The Block joke. The movie has more than a few breakneck tonal shifts, but they’re a necessary relief from the constant death and destruction. Much like Stand by Me, their chemistry oozes off the screen. To be fair, I would have liked a little more time with some of the Losers Club. There are a few characters who don’t feel entirely fleshed out, but I still felt captivated watching them and I can’t wait to see what part two holds in store for us.
If you couldn’t tell already, I loved It. As a fan of Stephen King and horror in general, this movie was made for me and I get that. For some people, it will probably be too much. Too scary, too goofy, too long, etc, but I really feel like Muschietti has done something magical here. There are subtle and not so subtle scenes where he makes you forget you’re watching a movie. He makes you feel like the horror is real. One of the first things Pennywise says to Georgie is that there’s an entire circus in the sewer. He asks Georgie if he can hear the music and the laughter, if he can smell the popcorn, and for a second, it feels like you’re the one peering down into the sewer.