Dir.: Andy Muschietti
For as prolific as an author as he is, and for his wide range of influence that he has had among pop culture over the last several decades, it's kind of a shame that Stephen King's film adaptations have been hit and miss across several decades. Ranging from generally good film and television efforts like Carrie and 11/22/63, to not so good, such as Under the Dome and the recent The Dark Tower, one can never be too sure if they will watch a good film/show or a bad one whenever a King work is involved. This is why it was so important for 2017's It to be a good adaptation. Not only is It one of Stephen King's most acclaimed and treasured novels, but it also had a miniseries adaptation that was generally looked upon favorably and had a pretty big impact in pop culture in the '90s, bringing in new Stephen King fans for that particular generation. It is also an 1100 page behemoth of a book, and thought to be unadaptable as a contained, singular film.
Color me shocked, elated and emphatic, because It is not only a great horror film - it's one of the best horror films I've ever seen, and one of the best films of the year.
It has a lot in common with other classic horror films, but its main similarity lies in its sheer confidence and awareness of what makes its horror effective: its central source of paranoia. Much like The Exorcist is a film dealing with the horrors of supernatural possession, and The Thing describes how others react in the isolated, condensed arctic, It knows that its fears come from the abstract and the imagination; although It never strives for a Lynchian-esque surrealist nightmare, it effectively paints horror through imaginations of children. The film combines a coming-of-age drama with this kind of surrealist horror to great effect, as the tone of the film feels rather unique compared to a lot of other horror films with child acting casts today. Whereas something like Annabelle: Creation plays like a straight-up haunted house film with child actors, It feels like an entirely different beast, almost like it could have come from a young Spielberg if it were made in the '70s or '80s. This is one of the main reasons why the film feels fresh and invigorating from beginning to end; there is a clear passion for the story prevalent in the directing, acting and cinematography that never relents. The writing could have gone so wrong, with three different writers and with Cary Fukunaga originally writing and directing the film, but dropping out of the director's chair and having the script rewritten partially, so it's a great surprise to see just how great this film turned out to be despite these production troubles.
The cast all bring their A-game, and I cannot think of a single child actor's performance that I did not like, but I will point out that the actors that played Richie and Eddie definitely stood out as being highly effective in their mannerisms and their different individual characteristics. The real star of the show, despite being the main antagonist and a shapeshifting otherworldly entity, is Bill Skarsgard's Pennywise. Opting smartly to not even attempt to ape Tim Curry from the '90s miniseries, Skarsgard instead opts to bring a sense of foreboding predatory menace to Pennywise. His performance feels much more mean-spirited and vile than Tim Curry's ominous but playful take on the clown, but Skarsgard still has a good amount of fun with the role. His performance is constantly unsettling and incredible to watch, and I am confident that it will be ingrained in the minds of horror fans for decades to come.
The cinematography and special effects of this film are extremely well done. The DP is a frequent collaborator of Chan-wook Park, one of my favorite directors of all time, so I might be a tad biased with how the camera is used in this film, but overall I felt it had appropriate uses of camera movement to create a foreboding sense of dread. When different forms of fear are displayed on screen to give the viewer a break from the simple Pennywise clown form of It, these other apparitions are creatively animated and brought to life in startlingly grotesque and disturbing detail. There are some original creations and some lifted straight from the book, but all of the different forms It takes all feel valid in the world that director Andy Muschietti and company create. The soundtrack combines orchestral, Spielberg-style drama with the more creeping violin-driven horror that populates contemporary gothic horror flicks, but it never succumbs to simple loud bass or jump-scare porn. Overall, from a technical standpoint, I couldn't find much wrong with the film in this department either.
It's probably easy to see that I thoroughly loved It from start to finish. I had a hard time trying to come up with flaws for the film, and the only things I can really say that I maybe didn't like about the film so much was that certain character transitions felt a little too sudden, and some of the pacing felt a little rushed, but when you condense an 1100 page book into a two hour film this is to be expected. The film teases a sequel, which will definitely happen now that It has broken all of the horror box office records and is a massive hit. As long as the same personnel stay on for this one, I say bring it on. I need more of these kinds of timeless horror films in my life. It is one of my favorite films of the year and I highly recommend seeing it as soon as possible.