It

Published on September 11th, 2017

It

Starring Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Finn Wolfhard

Directed by Andy Muschietti

Reviewed by Michael Dalton

Rating: ★★★★★

In 2013, burgeoning director Andy Muschietti released Mama, a creepy little adventure about a malevolent spirit that coiled itself around an unassuming family. Aside from a characteristically interesting performance by Jessica Chastain, what made the movie fly was Muschietti’s mischievous, visual sense. In one scene, we see a door slowly close and inside we spot airborne children in a delirious state, giggling at their floating ability. Dark and atmospheric, it was rich in colour and Muschietti, who has the uncanny talent of making us smile as our skin crawls, delighted in making us search the darkness for details, he made us hunt for the spooks. He pulls the same trick in It. As opposed to Mama, this lively adaptation of the Stephen King classic, for my money the best adaptation of King’s pure horror work since Brian De Palma’s Carrie, sees Muschietti flip his approach by shooting it with brightness.  Conversely, the book was dark and as he did with his characters (for half the book they were children, for the other half adults), King set us up to confront fear itself. Who better to deal with pure evil than faces of pure innocence?

The setting for It is Derry, Maine (a state that has facilitated much of the author’s deadly happenings) in the year 1988 (in the book it is set in the 1950s). In the startling opening scene, we watch a young boy playing under stormy skies with a toy boat his stammering brother made for him. It disappears into a storm drain and when the boy reaches for it, he meets Pennywise, a deadly clown who “disarms” him and then drags him in. It’s a stage setter, the stuff of nightmares. Muschietti maintains this approach as he delves into the source material. At the time of his epic’s release, King referred to it as “the final exam”. No one will be referring to the film the same way (the horror genre keeps running roughshod over itself) but it is a classic of its own kind. This is an adventure about children (if only to be viewed by adult audiences), full of all that once made us jump and scream. Of course, King’s topped his novel in the years since, but never again did he come at these fears with such force, reverence, and sly humour.

What you’ll see here is hardly tepid. The boy’s brother and his six friends (their very appearance is a beautiful nod to Stand By Me, another fine King adaptation), are a happy little band self-titled The Loser Club. Regularly victimised by a local quartet of psychopathic bullies, they soon become aware, thanks to their history buff member (a winning performance by Jeremy Ray Taylor), that their mostly peaceful little town is on top of the country’s list for missing children.  One by one, they meet It in its various forms, whether it be as the mischievous clown, a lurching zombie, a ghoulish, misshapen woman, , a headless corpse, and in one of the film’s memorable scenes, the bathroom sink. It all comes down to a war where pure innocence meets unadulterated evil. It’s a neat and pleasingly cinematic portrait.

I feared that because the film is lorded over by a very young cast, we might be cheated on the scares and the blood. It comes with plenty of both but thankfully Muschietti isn’t one for the gratuitous imagery. He and his cameraman Chung-hoon Chung know precisely how to frame the action and Benjamin Wallfisch’s score gives it a delicious rumble.  The decrepit old house, the well, the cellar, and the sewer are all present and accounted for. The town itself, classic small American, looks so right. You can believe its full of secrets. Waiting to be discovered.