This is not a term I throw around for the heck of it, but Stephen King’s latest big screen adaptation, It, is one of the scariest films I have ever seen. With plenty of jumps and scares and an overall tense atmosphere, director Andy Muschietti (Mama) has perfected the art of modern horror cinema. Often I’m sceptical about relatively unknown film directors, but within the first 5 minutes, my qualms were tossed away about Mr Muschietti in what I consider to be his finest work.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the novel or the original 1990 2-part miniseries, It follows the story of 7 young teenagers known as the ‘Loser Club’ by the school bullies. The film begins with the iconic scene where teenager Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) helps his younger brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) to create a fateful paper boat, which Georgie takes out for his final trip, in which he meets horror icon and decade-old cause of children’s nightmares, Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). Even those who have seen the original miniseries will not be expected for the terrifying outcome of this scene. Throughout the film, we are gradually introduced to the other [future] members of the Loser Club and see how their lives intertwine due to school bullies.
The scares and jumps barely cease as we encounter Pennywise several times in a whole manner of terrifying manifestations for the duration of the film that affirm the rumours that Bill Skarsgård’s portrayal as the murderous demon is a match made in heaven. Not only does Skarsgård perfectly portray the playful and mischievous sides of the clown, he adds a chilling depiction of sinister insanity that was missing with Tim Curry’s comedic portrayal. If you are acquainted with the original novel, everything you pictured the antagonist to be is visualised flawlessly by the extremely talented concept art and makeup departments. Not a single acting talent in this can be criticised, from the children to the adults. Lieberher and Robert Scott work together beautifully to create a heartwarming and realistic brotherly connection that will surely jerk some tears for many cinema-goers. Not only that, but the real life issues of bullying, child abuse and loss are portrayed very delicately and effectively in a way that surpassed everyone’s already positive expectations. Sophia Lillis’ (Beverly Marsh) depiction of the shunned and abused young teenager touches places that the original miniseries never did and will be guaranteed to anger audiences, along with Jeremy Ray Taylor’s (Ben Hanscom) bullied and lonely school newcomer and Chosen Jacobs’ (Mike Hanlon) home-schooled farm boy. In a way that is very rarely seen in cinema, character development is so effective that you begin to feel part of the characters’ lives and sympathise with them every step along the way, even with the instantly disagreeable bully Henry Bowers (Nicolas Hamilton).
All acting aside, the visual effects are in themselves a massive spectacle, especially those used in Pennywise’s many manifestations, and work to not only horrify you, but to also leave you in awe, particularly in the second segment of the film. Even for the most seasoned horror fans, Georgie’s encounter with Pennywise will not only leave them with their hearts sunken into your stomach, it will make them squirm uncomfortably and hold the nearest person to them for safety. Those who are squeamish may want to give this a miss, given the occasional moments of uncomfortably realistic gruesome injury detail.
All in all, Muschietti has not only opened up a new market for horror reboots, he has reestablished modern cinema and started a new generation of fear and this will surely go down in cinema history (with it already breaking box office history as the highest grossing R-rated film in its opening weekend) as an instant horror classic and Skarsgård’s Pennywise will haunt children for the next 27 years, til he returns to feed on children’s fears once again. There’s not a single dull moment in the entire 135 minutes of masterful runtime and the eager anticipation for the second part of Stephen King’s terrifying story has already begun and if you stick around til the end of the credits, the devilish laughter of Pennywise will be enough to tell you to be prepared for another intense cinema experience. It’s impossible to score this film any lower than 10/10.