After learning that It was being remade as a horror epic, I smiled. Finally, a necessary remake. The original miniseries was flawed in a way that, though somewhat effective in Tim Curry's performance as Pennywise the Clown, comes across to me as little more than a gimmick. As a child, I viewed the original film and was mostly bored rather than scared. I loved films like Stand By Me and The Goonies. I loved the idea of a ragtag group of little misfits going out on an adventure to fight a demonic child-devouring clown who feeds off the fears of a small town. From my perspective, the scares in the original production weren't effective, the plot wasn't involving in the second half, and, despite some creepy moments, was a pretty bloated film. The three-hour runtime didn't help.
After coming back home, just now, from seeing this new remake and being scared so badly that I feel comatose, I feel confident as ever in my declaration. It is the best horror film about childhood since Let the Right One In and is, to day, one of the strongest adaptations of a Stephen King novel to date. Director Andy Muschietti does a powerful job at ramping up the pulsating intensity of the novel in directing Bill Skarsgård and a talented group of young actors. Artistically, this film pays considerable homage to the work of King by staying true to both the dreary tone set fourth by the novel and to the feeling of menace by an unknown force. The film makes good with the scares, which are often nasty, vicious, and unrelenting, and, better yet, they're rarely ever false. Not a single ten minutes of this film go by without a solid scare, and the horror that our heroes feel is palpable.
However, there are a few things that give It a strong edge over most American horror films that have been released in the past tent years. First of all, it takes its time with telling its story. The film goes at a patient enough pace and we don't feel as though we're being rushed. We feel the sense of desolation that the citizens in the small town of Derry are feeling because the town itself feels enough like a character in and of itself. We are given enough detail about the locations and the population because the characters feel like a part of it while still coming across as alienated outsiders. There's a naturalism in the sense of familiarity that these characters have, which make their various jabs, references, and jokes toward one another feel familiar. We sense the togetherness and friendship these characters share and develop as they assist one another and are supportive, and, when they butt heads with one another, it doesn't feel contrived. These characters are scared, and they each show their fears in different ways.
It manages to even find the right moments to tap into these fears, anxieties, phobias, and traumas. Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) fears what happened to his missing brother, Georgie (Jackson Scott) and expresses a valiant effort in finding him, which Pennywise uses to his advantage in luring him. Mike (Mike Hanlon) was a survivor of a fire while Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is new in town and is dismayed by the bloody history. Beverly (Sophia Lillis) is concerned with getting her period and is molested by her abusive father. The asthmatic Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) is a victim of his controlling mother's hypochondria and is forced to take various medicines. Richie (Finn Wolfhard) gets it bad, because he's afraid of clowns. The worst, though, is Stanley, which I can't even work up the nerve to write about. Each of these horrors are brought to life in lurid, often explicit, visions that are startling in their extremities. The clown figure, in fact, appears very little in the film. He, instead, takes many different forms that are sometimes even more scary. Much of the fear in this film, though, comes from the town delinquent, Henry Bowers, who is sadistic, brash, and tinted with a psychopathic streak that makes him fearful and threatening while still remaining human in subtle ways that make him sympathetic, but not likable.
It also zeroes its focus on the childhood of the main protagonists, ditching the part of the novel (and the miniseries) that involves their troubled adulthoods. This approach is much more effective because this allows more suspense to be drawn. Part of what made the original miniseries so problematic for me had to do with how I knew which characters survived the ordeal by its decision to show each of the adults having flashbacks. I had a very similar problem with the novel, though King's book at least was successful in the way it taps into the fear of the unknown. Such a thing is harder to do in a visual medium, and this approach makes each of the characters feel uncomfortable in their vulnerability. By focusing on the childhood, this film manages to actually devote more time to characterization and development of motivation. At over two hours, It is quite an epic. It remains compelling, though, because, regardless of the scares that persist and the bloodshed that occurs, it feels like a serious adventure. These kids also swear, spit, fight, bitch, complain, and feel incredible turmoil over this nightmarish situation that pushes them all to their limits and forces them to confront some of the most troubling aspects of life. In other words, despite being outcasts, they're realistic and they feel like people we know and even might already be.
It, most importantly, reminded me why the horror genre is so important. Horror is about the expression of fear. Fear comes from every day life. As a child, I was fearful. I visited my father's home in a small town in Vermont for two weeks every summer. As I reached my teen years, another girl began to visit the town at the same time I did. This girl bullied me so badly that I had nightmares for years. She effectively ruined my summer. At a couple points in this film, the characters say, "This is summer. We're supposed to be having fun." Rarely has a phrase rung so true for me. Hearing and seeing what these young kids were going through brought me right back to those summers where I was fearful of going outside where my bully was. This is, in the end, a film about seven children standing up to the ultimate bully. The ultimate embodiment of fear. It is the scariest film I've seen this year because it's all too relatable. Now, in 2017, is the best time for a horror film like this to exist.