IT has all the makings of a great horror movie. And that’s because it doesn’t neglect focusing on being a good movie first.
Laughs are handed out as readily as scares, which is fitting for a movie whose antagonist is a monster-clown, but it’s also driven by a sturdy heart (which you’ll need because Pennywise is pretty scary).
All too often movies set out to terrify with cheap, by-the-numbers scares (this movie has those too) and paltry character development – but there’s only so much you can care for Lucy the busty, bitchy cheerleader when she inevitably gets decapitated.
IT’s clear strength is an investment in cast and character.
If you’re familiar with the 1990s mini-series adaptation of Stephen King’s work, you probably have a terrified nostalgia warmly associated with it. Curious, I watched it again and, aside from the incredibly creepy performance by Tim Curry as Pennywise, the rest of the cast are rather wooden and unconvincing. I died a little at the lack of fright when these morose Derry townsfolk banded together to defeat the evil that’s snatching up kids.
Skip forward to 2017’s IT: The cast are phenomen: the kids and the clown. This version is populated by genuinely likeable characters who you won’t even remotely want to smack. This means that when the evil dancing clown shows up, you’re all in – you really don’t want these guys (and gal) to get gobbled up like the rest. That’s why this movie feels bigger than the popcorn thrillride it is.
Now, we need to talk about Pennywise, The Clown, IT itself…
Bill Skarsgård delivers a slightly different version to Curry – whose duplicitous nature peaked through his ordinary-clown disguise moments before he attacked. This Pennywise is wrong from the moment you meet him. You can see the evil in the smile and deadness behind the eyes. He lacks the initial sweetness to lure kids in; which was concerning when the first images of him appeared online; this was not a clown I would reaching into a storm water drain after…
Onscreen this Pennywise is every bit as scary as his predecessor just in a slightly different way; he’s more upfront about being terrifying.
However my one negative comment does relate to Pennywise – not the physical performance… the digital one. There are several moments when we get to see Pennywise’s eldritch-self bursting through his makeup (the cheap scares I mentioned earlier), I felt these moments would have landed better with a more prosthetic approach – more visceral, less virtual. But even this gripe is minor.
The early positive buzz about IT is well deserved and as many international critics are saying, it is certainly one of the best Stephen King adaptations.
Indulge your coulrophobia and go see it; you’ll float too.
IT is directed by Andy Muschietti and stars Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff and Bill Skarsgård. Opens 15 September throughout South Africa, with a 16 age restriction.