IT : The Return of Big Budget Horror
I went up to the local Malco last night and watched the latest big budget horror reboot, It. We’ve covered ad nauseum my feelings about remakes so I’ll spare you the tired monologue. With a huge marketing campaign and a steady build up over the summer leading to an absolute frenzy in the horror community, there were a lot of mixed feelings going into this. Many, like me, have been jaded by the slew of shoddy, big studio remakes that have done little for the genre while others fretted that the new Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) would trample the memory of Tim Curry’s performance as the terrifying, titular monster. Some were also upset that the film was being made in two distinct parts, violating the timeline hopping narrative of the book and the 1990 miniseries. No one is more critical of a mainstream horror flick than I am.
That said, director Andy Muschietti’s It is quite possibly one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in the last year and, without a doubt, the best big studio horror production I’ve seen in a decade.
We all know the story of the Losers’ Club, a group of social outcasts who stumble upon the horrifying truth that a monster is kidnapping and eating children in the small town of Derry, Maine so I won’t bother going into a lot of detail about the overall plot. Instead, let’s start with everyone’s number one concern entering this movie. Bill Skarsgard is legendary as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. What he does in two hours with this character is nothing short of phenomenal. From his voice to his facial expressions to the general feeling of disquiet he breeds in the role is nothing short of a villainous masterpiece. Rather than trying to recapture the dry, sarcastic wit of Tim Curry, Skarsgard takes on a deceptively innocent persona marked by a steadily increasing feeling of menace and perverse pleasure in the torment of the children at the heart of the story.
And speaking of the kids, there isn’t a one of them who doesn’t give an absolutely stellar performance. Audiences will immediately recognize Richie Tozier played by Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) and Eddie Kaspbrak played by Jack Dylan Grazer (Tales of Halloween). All of these kids do phenomenal work but I have to single out Jaeden Lieberher and Sophia Lillis as Bill Denbrough and Beverly Marsh. Bill is a kid who already suffers an interminable amount of bullying over his stutter and his social standing and the added guilt he feels about his brother’s tragic disappearance/death would be enough to make even the most resilient kid crumble. Meanwhile, Beverly is dealing with all the abuse and ridicule a young girl can face as she enters her teenage years and the cruelty and rumor mongering of her peers is matched only by the strongly implied sexual abuse of her own father. The kids in this movie are easily the sort that you’d expect to fall through the cracks, to be swallowed whole by a ravenous world and utterly forgotten. It’s what makes them a target for the child devouring clown and what, ultimately, brings them together and makes them stronger as a group.
The visual effects are nothing new but they’re still very cool to see in the realm of horror and, other than a couple of jump scares, It really isn’t “scary” per se. The cinematography and style are what give this movie it’s most deeply unsettling and creepy atmosphere and there definitely isn’t a moment from start to finish where you won’t be on the edge of your seat. The story is shot in a linear fashion as opposed to the novel and miniseries style where the original encounter with Pennywise is retold by the grown members of the Losers’ Club returning to Derry. Instead we’re treated to a cohesive, singular narrative of a group of abused misfits who manage to band together and overcome an ageless, almost omnipotent evil that feeds on the fear of those it encounters. This isn’t going to be the sanitized, made for t.v. version that you grew up with. There won’t be anyone holding back and leaving a lot to your imagination. From the minute Georgie learns that “we all float down here” it’s pretty non-stop.
So, the question remains: is It just a fluke or could this be the return of good big budget horror?
Part two is in preproduction and the earliest fans can hope to see the next installment of It will be late 2018 or early 2019. Seems like a long wait but, when you consider we’ve already been waiting 27 years for a new It, that’s no time at all. Do yourself a favor and go check it out this weekend.
Dan Lee is a horror fiend and freelance writer with a special place in his heart for monster movies and demonic possession stories.