Unlike most people, I watched the 1990 It two-part movie starring Tim Curry only recently, so I have no emotional attachment to the story nor do I find it scary (but I’m sure I would have found it very disturbing as a child). However, I was still very excited to check out the latest adaptation of Stephen King’s iconic novel, especially since I really liked the previous film of director Andy Muschietti, Mama.
The story is set in 1988 in the town of Derry, Maine, where a group of friends (the Losers Club) teams up to fight an ancient evil that is killing innocent kids. The story seamlessly blends together different themes and genres: it is both a horror story and a coming-of-age tale, with each member of the Club dealing with difficult situations (abusive or neglectful parents, loss of loved ones, bullying…) and becoming more mature and adult due to the experiences they live. So much of the film plays on childhood fears that we all had in our youths (I especially related to Stan’s fear of a painting), and the R rating is expertly used to make the young actors talk like normal kids would, with “your mom” jokes and swearing.
The casting by Rich Delia is top-notch, giving us one of the most well-rounded casts this year. Every one of the kids (except for Chosen Jacob, only because his character has very little to do in the story) does a fantastic job, with excellent chemistry among all of them, and believable reactions during the scarier moments. Bill Skarsgård embodies Pennywise the Dancing Clown (the main manifestation of It), with a delightfully disturbing portrayal that is both fun and creepy to witness: his movement is very unnatural, the smile is chilling, the eyes are looking in opposite direction and barely blink, the voice and laughter are unnerving… It is a truly memorable performance that, while it does lose the scare factor after a couple of scenes, is truly enjoyable to watch, and has easily become one of the most iconic horror characters of the decade. Shout out to Javier Botet, who once again transforms into another disturbing individual that does not overstay his welcome. The rest of the characters are not well developed, but that is far from a complaint, since focusing on someone else rather than the children would have unnecessarily padded the runtime of an already long movie.
For a 2 hours and 15 minutes long film, the pacing is incredibly tight. The film keeps going back and forth between scary encounters with the manifestations of It, to the children bonding and teaming up. There is very little filler and silent moments, instead going for constant laughs and thrills, unfortunately overusing jump scares of Pennywise plunging towards the kids. The most disturbing moments were those in which he was simply talking or hiding in the distance, making his stares much more effective than a CGI-enhanced run.
Other than some wonky moments of computer graphics on a couple of creatures, the film is absolutely stunning to look at! The makeup and set design are meticulously crafted, the soundtrack by Benjamin Wallfisch captures the spirit of John Williams’ E.T. soundtrack, as well as Joseph Bishara’s The Conjuring music during the scary bits. Andy Muschietti proves once again that he is a very capable filmmaker when it comes to horror, knowing how to scare without putting plot and characters in the background. The true MVP, however, is cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon (DP of Oldboy’s Park Chan-wook): every frame is perfectly composed, from the lighting to the angles, increasing the tension in really subtle ways such as tilting the camera or slowly panning towards something. Without him, the movie would have looked way cheaper, and it would have been less effective.
Overall, It: Chapter One is a truly wonderful horror movie that is more interesting and fun than it is scary. Thanks to great production design, wonderful casting, compelling characters, and fast pacing, this is a classic in the makings, and probably the best studio horror since The Conjuring 2.
Visual Effects: 8
Violence & Gore: 9
Sex & Nudity: 6
Drugs & Profanity: 6.5
Intensity & Horror: 8.5