Stephen King has always been the master of creating the things that go bump in the night. His novel, IT, was created into a miniseries aired on ABC. Since then, director Andy Muscietti has brought the film back to life, forwarded to start in 1988 to make the later events take place in modern times. However, does this movie do its source material justice?
The film starts with an-all-too-familiar introduction to the titular character in the sewer, in possession of a boat that had been used by little Georgie. The clown introduces himself as Pennywise, the dancing clown, but there is something uncanny, and otherworldly about this particular clown, beyond the fact that he seems perfectly at home in the sewer. Before long, he eats the arm off of Georgie, dragging him under the sewer to never be seen again.
Over the course of the film, we learn that the town of Derry, Maine, in addition to having the most mentally unbalanced and overly aggressive bullies and adults in the world, has the largest number of missing persons and children in the nation; six times that of the national average. Seven children, referred to as the Loser’s Club, have all seen and been terrorized by this viscous being, and are united by this common terror. They must overcome their fears, or risk being consumed by them, and quite literally at that.
The strength of a horror movie hinges almost entirely on the creature, demon, or ghost, and IT has absolutely no problem here. Unlike the previous portrayal of Pennywise as a convincing man in a silly clown suit, the uncanny valley of the character creates a constant, off-putting sense every time Pennywise is on the screen. There is something not quite human about him, and that makes him scarier, especially in the eyes of the children that he is targeting.
Speaking of the children, it is not uncommon for child actors to be annoying and frustratingly bad at acting. However, this is FAR from the case here. Each of these children conveys a unique and interesting character beyond the stereotypes that often plagues horror movies. The black child is more than just a token black kid, and the girl is more than just a token girl. They each have unique and interesting backstories and it makes for a far more compelling film. We are drawn more into the story because we have a connection, and even an interest, in the lives of the would-be victims, further adding to the terror.
The dialogue is slightly too profane to attempt to gain some sort of additional authenticity which can be a little grating a times, but it is a small price to pay for an otherwise entertaining and impressive cast.
The CGI is an unfortunate and necessary evil, here. In order for Pennywise to be able to utilize the fullest of his shape-shifting abilities, there has to be a little bending of reality that practical effects can’t pull off. An argument could be made that those effects weren’t meant to be hyper-real, due to the fact that these are all through the eyes of a child and were therefore meant to be sensationalized, but when we are seeing things from our own perspective, such an artistic choice becomes moot.
If you were a fan of the original novel, then part one of this two-part film should deliver on everything you wanted from it. This is a far cry removal away from the campy, cable television friendly horror film from 1990, and to go in with expectations of similarity will be sorely disappointed. However, if you go in with an open mind, a vivid imagination, and a little bit of patience to get through some of the unnecessarily dull character development at times, you will walk away having experienced one of the best movies of the year, and easily one of the best horror movies of the last five. Three and a half stars out of four.