Unlike most contemporary horror films, Andy Muschietti’s “It” features refreshingly fleshed-out characters who raise the quality of the film. “It” should please horror movie buffs and audience members looking to become emotionally invested in a twisted, haunted house-esque thrill ride.
Based on the Stephen King’s 1986 novel, the film centers around a group of children terrorized by a homicidal clown named Pennywise in the fictional town of Derry, Maine. Pennywise can take the form of each child’s deepest fear — feeding off their terror. The children must eventually confront their fears and band together to attempt to put an end to Pennywise.
Pennywise — played by Bill Skarsgard — proves to be a worthy antagonist. With a strikingly-blanched face, blood-red lips and spit sliding down his chin in thick globs, Pennywise looks like a nightmarish circus clown.
Muschietti, who previously directed 2013’s “Mama,” creates a suspenseful, but humorous film with “It” and proves contemporary horror films can have characters worth caring about.
The children are compelling characters since they possess equal amounts of freedom and vulnerability — living without parental supervision or cell phones — which instills a profound sense of tension in the film. The children are initially helpless, unable to rely on adult guidance because they are not taken seriously. The children are easy to empathize with.
When they eventually form the “Losers Club” and work together to confront Pennywise, their bravery in the face of evil proves infectious. As the children become less scared of Pennywise, the film also loses some of its initial shock value.
Furthermore, their group dynamic, filled with teasing and foul language, feels authentic to that of unsupervised children.
The film effectively employs comedic relief to provide breaks from the scenes with Pennywise. Occasionally hilarious, these scenes also emphasize the innocence of the children. Their believable behavior and initial helplessness heightens the emotional stakes for the violent proceedings.
Pennywise remains a supernatural entity, he’s grounded in just enough reality to make him extremely unsettling and unpredictable. Pennywise isn’t a generic movie monster who attacks immediately when seen. Instead, he enjoys tormenting the children, disturbing them before exploding into a rampage.
The film’s opening scene shows a child named Georgie being dragged down a sewer drain by Pennywise who takes advantage of Georgie’s youthful curiosity. The opening scene proves to be one of the most startling in recent horror movie history.
Later scenes never reach this initial level of discomfort, but viewers are still unable to look away.
When Pennywise takes the form of the children’s fears, the film employs noticeable amounts of CGI. Some of the forms Pennywise uses — particularly a spindly woman taken directly from a painting — look similar to the monsters from other contemporary horror films. The creature designs aren’t innovative enough to truly shock audiences — the buildups to their reveals are more effective than the actual reveals.
Muschietti’s “It” uses numerous classic horror movie techniques. In particular, Muschietti uses sound design to maximize suspense. Before Pennywise appears, the music drowns out and the camerawork takes a jittery, claustrophobic quality — reflecting the terror of the victims — before exploding into a clamor of noise.
With a tone that emphasizes comedic relief and suspense, “It” sometimes feels like the cinematic equivalent of walking through a haunted house — there’s a new threat around every corner, waiting to jump out. Especially near the end, the film opts for an unrelenting pace, which lessens the psychological impact.
While cathartic, the final confrontation with Pennywise lacks subtlety, almost becoming an action movie, which is a disservice to the well-developed characters.
The conclusion of the film leaves much to be desired. The film’s epilogue leaves several plot threads dangling, probably to be resolved in the next installment. While certain films use ambiguity as a tool to spark conversation and debate, “It” doesn’t give enough information to let the audience piece everything together. Having to wait several years for a sequel isn’t necessarily satisfying.
While flawed, Muschietti’s “It” is one of the most entertaining horror films to come out recently and is sure to be a favorite among horror fans for the foreseeable future.