27 years ago, Stephen King’s masterpiece It hit television as a special miniseries event. Like many of his works at that time, it left a lot to be desired, although Tim Curry was masterful as Pennywise, the killer clown. For those who remember the story from the book, every 27 years in the town of Derry, Maine, a demon rises and children start to disappear.
Ironically, 27 years after that television miniseries, It is back once again, and this time it received the movie it deserved. Andy Muschietti proved with Mama (read my review here) that he knew how to create a very frightening horror movie and his follow-up here with It was just as scary and disturbing as his earlier movie.
It is the first of two movies based on the King novel, as Muschietti took the split narrative of the kids fighting Pennywise and then returning as adults to finish the job and created one cohesive movie about the kids for this first one. Part 2, which comes out in 2019, will take place 27 years after this one and have them as adults fighting Pennywise once again, finishing the job they started in this film.
That isn’t a spoiler for anyone who knows the story of It.
Bill is a young boy in Derry with a studdering problem. He is the focal character as a member of a group of friends known as The Losers. Joining him is foul-mouthed Richie, the Jewish son of a Rabbi in Stanley, and the hypochondriac Eddie. They spend most days just trying not to get beat up by the local sociopathic bully Henry and his friends.
The Losers soon grow in numbers when they save a new kid in town named Ben, who is running from Henry, and then later save an outcast named Mike, who Henry was beating up. Rounding out the group is a girl named Beverly Marsh, who the girls in school have convinced everyone is the town slut (even though she, much like The Losers, is a virgin).
Bill is very depressed due to a tragedy concerning his younger brother Georgie. The child went out to play in the rain while Bill was in bed sick and never came home. A paper boat Bill made for Georgie floats into a sewer grate and when Georgie tries to get it out, Pennywise the Dancing Clown shows up in the sewer. He eventually convinces Georgie to reach in for the boat, at which time he kills the child and pulls him into the sewers.
Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) is frightening but doesn’t hold a candle to Tim Curry’s creation from 27 years ago. However, the real terror in this movie isn’t so much about the demon that takes children. The real terror in this film is the isolation and horrors of a town that turns its head to the terror that sweeps over it every 27 years, allowing the sacrifice of their children.
All The Losers parents that we meet are terrible people. Bill’s dad refuses to accept that Georgie can be found and has just decided to live with the fact that his youngest son is gone forever. Beverly’s dad seems one step away from molesting his daughter at all times. Eddie’s mother has been feeding him placebos to keep him homebound as much as possible by making him think he is ill. Stanley’s dad seems more concerned with him memorizing his bar mitzvah speech, so he doesn’t embarrass him.
There is never any sign of Richie and Ben’s parents, and Mike’s parents died in a fire when he was young. What is most scary about this movie is, after Georgie’s death, these children are alone with no adults to help them as Pennywise hunts and takes children without any resistance.
You could say this is like The Goonies if they were fighting an evil demon instead of hunting for treasure. The scenes in the sewers and an old abandoned house are terrifying, and Muschietti has a deft hand when it comes to creating a claustrophobic tension and delivering the scares.
However, It works as well as it does because of the young cast and the fact that they buy into the entire ordeal. The moral of It is that the kids will die if they stand alone but they can defeat the evil if they face their fears and work together.
Nicholas Hamilton is excellent as Henry, the sociopath who bears a strong resemblance to Kiefer Sutherland’s Ace Merrill from Stand by Me (another sociopath from the neighboring fictional town of Castle Rock). It is a character type that shows up often in the work of Stephen King and works well here.
Honestly, there hasn’t been a lot of great Stephen King movies over the years. Most of his best are not horror movies (Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, Green Mile). However, when it comes to horror movies, It stands with the best, rivaling films like Misery, 1408, and Frank Darabont’s The Mist.
From the fantastic direction to the tremendous performances by the kids, there is a lot to like about It, and if you are looking for a great horror movie to watch this Halloween, It is the one you can’t miss.