Andy Muschietti’s highly anticipated adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name hit our screens this week, and has been breaking records ever since. The monster-hit took in €10.9 million in its opening week, putting it on track to become one of the biggest horror films to hit the UK and Irish box office. And rightly so. It is an intrinsically creepy, and somewhat funhouse film that excellently combines a coming-of-age story with a horror that is so nostalgic it feels almost modern among the genre’s output in recent years.
It focuses on ‘Chapter One’ of King’s famous novel, following the lives of seven children living in a fictional town called Derry. The town has been plagued with disappearances since its founding, and the victims are, more often than not, children. Billy, played by Jaeden Lieberher, becomes aware of these strange happenings after his little brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) vanishes without a trace while playing out in the rain. While attempting to get over the loss of his brother, Billy, along with his group of friends nicknamed “The Loser Club,” find themselves being terrorised by Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård), a demonic shapeshifter who feeds on the fear of children.
Horror has very much become a marmite area of film, with a lot of regurgitated storylines and similar attempts to spook you, making the genre quite predictable and often just plain boring. Filmmakers are inclined to stick to what works which becomes repetitive, or go over-the-top trying to stand out that it almost ends up offensive to the viewer. In this regard, It feels like a breath of fresh air, a difficult feat for a remake. It beautifully combines genuinely creepy, stress-inducing horror elements with an often very funny and touching coming-of-age story. It is a credit to Muschietti, who mixes an incredibly sinister score, wacky camera angles, and honestly effective jump scares, with in depth looks at the home lives of many of the main characters, making the viewer really care about the fate of these children.
It is a visual delight, making excellent use of the CGI that the 1990 miniseries did not have the option to use. The use of visual motifs – notably the red balloon and Georgie’s bright yellow raincoat – is hugely effective in adding suspense right when it needs to – just a glimpse of either of these objects made the viewer hide behind their hands out of fear of what was to come. Muschietti’s hallucinatory and ludicrous nightmare images do wonders for the overall film. At no point – inside or out, light or dark – do you feel safe from the terrifying clown, or whatever horrific form it is going to take.
Bill Skarsgård had big shoes to fill (excuse the clown pun) taking the role from Tim Curry, but his portrayal of Pennywise is hard to fault. Everything from the voice to the smile to the horrifying laugh haunts you long after the credits roll. He creates a genuinely terrifying villain that will no doubt induce nightmares in those a bit wary of clowns to begin with. Skarsgård is joined on screen by a genuinely delightful ensemble of child actors. The children’s performances are charming, funny and surprisingly powerful. It is easy for kid-acting to become cheesy without proper direction, and with children dominating the screen for the entire film, it is a credit to Muschietti that their performances are so on point. Each child delivers something great to the film – Jaeden Lieberher’s close bond with his missing brother is an emotional pull, while Finn Wolfhard’s Richie contrasts this with his vulgar humour even in the film’s tense moments. Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben is a loveable history buff and Sophia Lillis makes a striking Beverly Marsh, a strong gal who does not let the boys overshadow her.
Though often sceptical of horror films, I found myself pleasantly surprised by this one, especially given the big build up to its release. Overall, It was an excellent portrayal of the genre that is almost nostalgic in its approach. It takes some of the best aspects of vintage horror and teams it up with crazy CGI for an incredibly graphic and intense visual and sensory experience. The ensemble cast of kids are endearing, but their performances don’t feel childish, and they are matched by the sinister Skarsgård whose clown face will stick in your nightmares. It was a stressful watch – the jump scares worked, the suspense was real and I watched from behind my hands for a good chunk of the film – but no doubt an enjoyable one. A real gem of a horror.
Dir: Andy Muschietti
Cast: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer & Chosen Jacobs
Runtime: 135 min
Ciara Dillon – Film Editor