Andy Muschietti was a curious choice for New Line when they first announced that he would be taking over the new adaptation of IT that was once so comfortably in the hands of Cary Fukunaga. At the time the only feature film to Muschietti’s name was Mama, which was a very by-the-numbers supernatural haunter—not exactly the formula Stephen King fans had in mind for Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Yet here we are, many months later, and IT is not only shattering all kinds of records at the box office, but Muschietti’s take on the classic is a masterclass in storytelling and horror. In this one, a group of bullied kids band together when a monster, taking the appearance of a clown, begins hunting the children of Derry.
We all know the story—hell, even people who never laid their hands on Stephen King’s novel or watched Tim Curry terrorize an entire generation in the original miniseries knows who Pennywise is. He’s a pop (Pop! Pop, pop! Pop, pop! Pop, pop, pop!) culture icon, a child-eating monster famous for brutally murdering a little kid on a rainy day in a sewer. The genre doesn’t get much scarier than that (despite what very few naive moviegoers think). And that, too, is exactly how Muschietti’s film starts, with that infamous scene of little Georgie chasing a paper boat down the side of the road on a stormy day. But as horrifying as that moment is in the movie, Muschietti is only getting started.
The story completely revolves around the Losers’ Club, a band of kids who come together after children go missing in Derry. And what makes the movie so good is that there’s this balancing act between telling a genuine, heartfelt story about friendship and conquering your fears with a constant sense of dread and horror looming around every corner. The entire first half of the film is purely character building as Muschietti smartly fleshes out the kids’ personalities, giving us a true sense of who they are. As a result, we get a handful of characters that feel very grounded and real, showing us something in each of them that remind us of our own childhood experiences. But the force that binds them together is Pennywise, who shows up so frequently that it’s impossible to forget the terrible things to come for these kids.
And that’s also one of the most surprising things about IT, is that for two plus hours it’s practically wall-to-wall horror; just Muschietti finds these perfectly timed moments of heart and humor to throw in between all of the terror that the movie just feels perfectly paced—it’s a steamroller driven by an extraterrestrial murder clown. I can dig all of that. The best way to describe the horror in this movie is that it’s basically a funhouse of scares—although there is plenty of tension-building, Muschietti mostly just throws everything and the kitchen sink at the audience every chance he gets. It doesn’t always work (there is some spotty CGI), but the good is so good that it hardly distracts.
But for as much as there was to anticipate about this movie, the one thing we were all waiting to see was Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise (he is the star of the show, after all). A mostly unknown actor filling the biggest of shoes was never going to be easy, especially when those shoes were previously warn by Tim Curry. That said, Skarsgård’s Pennywise is just so good, and he quickly distances himself from anything we thought we were going to see. He’s this perfectly creepy, childlike presence that’s never not scary—he has a giant porcelain doll-like quality with a smile that never ends. Is there a better way to scare the shitty pants off of kids? Doubtful.
Not only that, but we get a heavy dose of Pennywise’s other forms, which was just more fuel for Muschietti’s fire. I will say this, though: I wish we could have seen more of Pennywise’s personality. So much of it is buried under the constant barrage of scares that we really don’t get as good of a feel for the character as I was hoping for. There are some moments in the film—mostly towards the end—where he really shines, his terrifying charm and charisma cut through scenes like a knife. I just wish we could have seen more of that Pennywise. Maybe in Chapter 2? For my money, Muschietti’s IT is as good as big-budget horror gets. It’s shockingly brutal and twisted, going to some of the darkest places the genre has to offer. And while doing so, Muschietti creates a Losers’ Club that you can’t help falling in love with, breaking up the horror with a coming-of-age tale that lives up to King’s brilliant novel. IT floats and you will too.