Review: IT is back to traumatize you with creepy clowns and the hard reality of growing up

You’ll float too… away from all the bad Stephen King adaptations and into a dream world full of sweet, funny and terrifying coming-of-age films.

You need to know two things about me. One, I hate horror films, or more accurate, I hate that I scream like a little girl whenever I see a horror film. Two, I haven’t read Stephen King’s IT, nor had I seen the original 1990 mini-series until early this year.

The reason for number two is simple. I remember turning on the TV as a kid and catching the last minutes of part one of the mini-series, more specifically a scene with a bathtub and a message written in blood. That was enough to turn me away from the film for more than a decade – I finally watched it earlier this year. That’s right, I didn’t even see the damn clown.

Fast forward to last night. Just as the film started I was getting goosebumps from the creepy lullaby-like score by Benjamin Wallfisch – who also scored the masterfully creepy A Cure for Wellness, that also features a lullaby-like theme.

Already in the opening scene of the film, we see how IT sets a very different tone regarding violence than the 90s version. The film starts with poor, sweet Georgie Denbrough as he tries to get back his paper boat from a sewer. He meets a nice, but odd Pennywise the Dancing clown who urges him to “float” with him. Free from the constrain of network TV standards, director Andy Muschietti is able to take full advantage of the film’s R-rating, to the dismay of Georgie, who gets a much more savage and bloody end than his 90s counterpart.

If you are looking for something scary look no further, Pennywise is here to keep you awake for days in IT.

It is also in this scene that we first meet the titular it. Bill Skarsgård does a very different Pennywise than Tim Curry, and that is perfectly fine. Skarsgård’s acting will put off certain members of the audience, but it is all in the service of the film’s tone.

His is a darker, more savage killer clown that not only kills but enjoys torturing his victims and feeding off their fears. An otherworldly being that acts unnatural precisely because it isn’t human. From the way it walks, to its off-pitch voice, every aspect of Pennywise is meant to make you uncomfortable and afraid.

But it isn’t alone in this film. Despite what you may think you remember about the story, Pennywise isn’t the most important character.

The most important part of the film is The Losers Club, the group of seven kids whose lives change forever after they start seeing a murderous dancing clown. This is also what sets IT apart from most other studio-made horror films, as the film is more character driven than other recent films. Not since Stand by Me has a film nailed its young protagonist as much as IT did – except maybe Stranger Things on TV.

If there’s one thin to complain about is the lack of this scene in the film.

The kids in this film act like actual kids, they insult each other and curse a lot, but there is real chemistry between them.

All the seven child actors are great, but the standout is definitely Stranger Thing’s own Finn Wolfhard as the foulmouthed Richie Tozier, who gets most of IT’s laughs – yes, this film is funny as hell – as he keeps comparing the atrocities happening in the quiet town of Derry to his friend’s mom’s vagina.

And then there’s Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh. Lillis manages to steal the film and run with it, as she demonstrates a natural ability to carry the darker and more intense scenes in the film. Through her we explore the real horror of IT. Yes, there is an immortal, demonic clown capable to materializing your worse fears, but that is only a cinematic representation of the horror that is being a kid. IT is as much a coming-of-age film as it is a horror film.

Nothing can be as scary as being a kid and not knowing your place in the world, feeling surrounded by the fear of bullies, of your parents and of your future. There comes a time where everyone stops being a happy child full of life and becomes a hardened adult. This is a film about how a group of kids become adults by facing against a child-eating monster.

IT also has beautiful cinematography, and Nicholas Hamilton gives a performance for the ages as the bully you love to hate, Henry Bowers.

IT does make one significant change from the source material, and that is changing its setting from the 1950s to the somehow-popular-again 1980s. This means Goonies posters, lots and lots of bikes and a hilarious recurring joke involving one character liking The New Kids on the Block.

The town of Derry, Maine becomes just another character in IT. The script by Chase Palmer and Cary Fukunaga – with rewrites by Gary Dauberman – make the town come alive. From the small details like the theatre marquee advertising Batman and Nightmare on Elm Street 5, to the horror that await at the abandoned house at 29 Neibolt Street. This makes the town come to life and it places you in the middle of it all, to make you picture your own hometown as the site of the horrors.

By the time IT finishes and you finally let go of your neighbour’s arm, you will beg for the sequel to come. By the time you walk out of the theatre you will have experienced a sweet, funny, beautifully made and also terrifying film about the loss of innocence and about the child-eating clown that lives in the sewers.

Grade: Opening Night

How I grade films

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