Horror movies are about taking one’s fears and using them against the viewer, or in this case using the literal fears against the characters in the film. Director Andrés Muschietti has created as much of a coming-of-age drama as he has a fantasy/horror.
The film follows the journey of a rag-tag group of kids (the losers) as they confront a “monster” together; this monster is as much of a metaphor for childhood as it is a solid storyline. The IT movies, novel, and mini-series all share one thing in common – confronting your fear. Having a creature that feeds specifically off fear opens the story up for considerable depth when building each character, and this film utilises that to an extent – we see just as many real people that are monstrous in nature than we see depictions of Pennywise the clown (Bill Skarsgård) terrifying the children in the town of Derry. Blending these two “monsters” together blurs the line between facing a metaphorical monster (e.g. a paranoid mother, bully, sexually predatory father, physically abusive parent) and facing a literal monster (Pennywise). The film itself builds towards certain characters facing these fears and breaking these fears down, it does so with enough intent that you get the general idea of what the story is trying to tell us. And I say “to an extent” because in my view this film only half hits the nail on the head when really getting the message across, I’ll get to why that is.
For any Stephen King book readers out there this film is as loyal of a depiction as they could have possibly hoped for; it never holds back and supplies you with all the violence and creepy characters that the novel so brilliantly portrayed, but this strength also results in some structural weak points, movies aren’t novels, and no matter how good the book is not everything can be properly translated to film – this is where my specific issues lie.
There are simply too many characters to juggle all at once, it tried to satisfy each character’s fears equally but I couldn’t get a deep sense of who every character is and what makes all their fears so significant to them. This oversaturation of characters was something that created an imbalance. The novel itself is a great read specifically due to the fact that you have more time to understand each character and learn their specific fears, this is something that the film did, but simply didn’t have enough time to go in-depth for.
In terms of characters we get fantastic character chemistry in the losers group as each character seems to bounce off one another in a natural and organic way. Sophia Lallis who plays the female lead offers one of the strongest performances of the child actors, her fearful reactions and emotional breakdowns were easily the most convincing alongside the snarky and trash talking personality that Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things 2016-) so brilliantly portrayed. Above all, the honours go directly to Bill Skarsgård with his haunting and demented performance of the sadistic clown, the impact of his slight Swedish accent added so much to the foreign and unfamiliar tone of Pennywise’s voice, it truly made him that much creepier to behold.
In terms of visuals the film had brilliantly constructed sets and the production design was beautiful for a film that is predominantly horror based, there were many visual cues that mirrored films like The Shining (1980) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), as well as many of the other classic horrors. The cinematography was clean for the most part but camera-work began to wane the moment it got into fast paced scenes and tension building moments. The fear of the unknown is one of the single most effective horror elements; this film was extremely on-the-nose with “showing” the monsters, you get many shots where the monster was shown in all its CGI glory and this dispels a lot of the tension.
The makeup on Pennywise with the layer of digital effects is among some of the best I’ve seen utilised in modern horror and the production design team and digital effects team did an outstanding job in blending these two seamlessly. The music in this film had some sombreness to it but had moments where a song didn’t really fit the tone of the scene.
IT was a gripping drama/horror with plenty of contextual themes that worked and some that didn’t. Tension is not what this film holds closely, its themes of fear and facing up to the monsters that follow you all the way home are what made the novels so compelling and you get a great sense of this in this film adaptation. IT is unwaveringly loyal to its novel counterpart – utilising clean visuals, character chemistry, and a shivering performance by Bill Skarsgård; though being such an accurate adaptation results in some themes that don’t properly translate to film.