TL;DR
  • Pennywise is as sinister and terrifying as you expect and hope
  • The young actors are incredible
  • A slightly messy, unrealistic ending which leaves too many unanswered questions
  • A variety of horror to make sure everyone get scared – it’s not just clowns…
  • Equal parts horror and nostalgic ‘coming-of-age’ story – makes the story and characters more well-rounded and interesting and makes the horror even scarier
  • One of the best horror films this year and of all time

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Too often when you look at click-bait lists of, say, Top 50 Horror Films You Have To See Before You Die, you see the same films listed over and over and over again; Nightmare on Elm Street, The Shining, Dawn of the Dead and, always, The Exorcist. It’s precisely this reason why it’s so refreshing to see a new film with the potential to jump straight to the top of these lists. Over the last few years we haven’t had many; Insidious and The Conjuring perhaps, but the amount of new entries is limited. Ever since the first trailer dropped like a bomb on the internet, there’s been an inescapable hype circling It. Now it’s finally here, it’s a relief to see that the hype wasn’t for nothing and, even more fortunately, It deserves a special seat in any list of Top Horror Films You Have To See Before You Die.

Photo by Brooke Palmer – © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

One fateful rainy day in the not-so-peaceful town of Derry Bill’s brother Georgie mysteriously goes “missing” after having a run-in with sinister Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård). Months later Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) still hasn’t given up on finding his beloved brother. It seems that he won’t have to look too hard though, since Georgie isn’t the only child to go missing and trouble comes to him and his friends. With a monster stalking the children of Derry, Bill and his friends, Richie (Finn Wolfhard from Stranger Things), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Stan (Wyatt Oleff), band together with new boy Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), farm-boy Mike (Chosen Jacobs) and the sole girl of the group, Bev (Sophie Lillis) to get to the bottom of the mystery and confront the terrifying monster.

Photo by Brooke Palmer – © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

One thing that was really left out of the marketing for this film was that this is only the first film, something that’s only revealed at the end when we see the dreaded words ‘Chapter One’. I supposed this is only to be expected; Stephen King’s original novel has quite a long story, one that would be too condensed and abbreviated to fit into an average film length of approximately 2 hours; also most films nowadays that enjoy any hype or success inevitably become franchises – especially when something like It becomes a record-breaking success scoring an impressive estimated $117 million on its opening weekend (http://www.boxofficemojo.com/news/?id=4323), meaning it is the largest September opening, largest Fall opening and largest opening for an R-rated horror film. Clearly audiences are loving it and Warner Bros. and New Line are optimistic about It’s future successes. But is it worth all this hype and success? Absolutely.

Photo by Brooke Palmer – © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Although the prospect of having yet another franchise to keep up with is worth a groan, this film isn’t an irritatingly shameless attempt at building a world no one knows if they want (like with The Mummy earlier this year). Despite leaving questions open and unanswered at the end (thus requiring the second film), this film would otherwise be a strong film able to stand on its own, without a franchise behind it. Fortunately they didn’t cram the whole book into one film since it would lose a lot of its strength – a great aspect of the film is the pacing, details and insights we get into each and every character. Still, this doesn’t mean that the story within the film is flawless. Whilst we all understand that many questions posed at the end will be answered in the sequel, it does seem initially underwhelming and annoying not to give us any answers at the end. In the finale we find out what Pennywise has been up to, all of it not quite seeming straightforward – and then it’s over, without giving us any clue to ponder on while we wait for the upcoming chapter. The end does get a bit ridiculous to be honest; no one in the cinema could quite understand the necessity of the ‘blood-brother’ sequence at the end (especially with there being a mention of the AIDs epidemic just an hour earlier); and the idea of a group of young children confronting a supposedly powerful, murderous monster and coming out on top with everyone alive frankly begs belief.

Photo by Brooke Palmer – © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

These issues towards the end aside, however, this film tells the story of Stephen King’s novel excellently and with terrific pace. It’s as much a coming-of-age story as it is a horror, with the director Andy Muschietti and writers Palmer, Fukunaga and Dauberman allowing as much time for us to get to know the kids as they do for the scares. We don’t just see a whole story revolving around Pennywise; if anything Pennywise is just the catalyst that causes the group’s bond to become so strongthe real story is about the end of childhood and coming to terms with our fears. This theme and message comes across organically, never being on the nose and allowing the story to play out naturally and for us to see something within it. The story of the group is often sweet and funny – it’s not all dark and scary, oft-times coming across like a Spielberg film, Super 8 or Stranger Things. The real strength of the children is really down to the actors. Child actors can sometimes be a gamble, especially if the whole film revolves around them and it’s not a movie for children. Yet any gamble here certainly pays off, since every young actor in this film is terrific and worthy of every ounce of praise they get – surely they all have bright futures ahead of them. Having a balance between delightful, nostalgic scenes of childhood and sinister scenes of horror has a double effect; it gives us a variety of strong, rounded characters performed by hugely talented young actors to make up an excellent ensemble and the scary scenes become even more potent by contrast.

Photo by Brooke Palmer – © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

It’s these scary scenes that initially draw such a huge audience and they deliver the scares in spades. Mature and well-shot, there are scenes here soon to become iconic, their film techniques studied for decades to come. There are some jump scares, but they are good, satisfying and never cheap, rather the tension is built up to a wonderful climax in each horror-imbued scene. Excellent horror-cinematography aside though, Skarsgård’s Pennywise is the real horror star. A perfect successor to Tim Curry’s iconic original in 1990, there should be as much credit given to the design and make-up behind the clown as there is to Skarsgård’s performance. Creepy and sinister with an unnerving smile one minute, then, with just a small change of facial expression, the next minute the monster within becomes obvious and absolutely terrifying. Neither underused or overused, Pennywise is certainly the hideous joy that delivers what everyone wanted from this film – an irrational phobia of clowns.

Photo by Brooke Palmer – © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

The film also takes advantage of the various scares that chase the children. If clowns don’t give you the shivers, then maybe lepers or zombies or a headless ghost… the range of scare means no specific fear becomes boring and overseen. The film also goes one step further in bringing horror from the parents of the group. Sinister and perverted, there’s more than just a vicious clown on the loose and the dark aspects coming from the children’s very homes make it all the more captivating and unnerving.

Whether clowns scare you or not, this is without doubt a horror film that you need to see. Sinister, tense and undeniably terrifying with an intricate, scary plot, it’s also sweet, innocent and very funny with a nostalgic and thought-provoking insight into childhood. The scares are big and enjoyable and Pennywise is the horror icon we all want. Everyone’s favourite dancing clown is back to float this movie to a success… and you should want to float too.

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