For readers of Reel Talk and listeners of Reel Chronicles, I have never shied away from the fact that despite its consistent inconsistency, horror has been my favorite genre of film. Separating the “movie snob” in me that gets tingly over Oscar season every year, nothing excites me more as a cinephile than the possibility of a great horror film, a film that can be so influential that it can kick start the genre once again. Over the span of my life, there has been one film that brought life into the genre, Scream. Outside of that, there have been great entries into the genre, Insidious, The Conjuring, It Follows, The Babadook, but none that caused a stir the way Scream did. That is until September 8th, 2017 with the release of It. A film that not only changed box office expectations for future horror films as the film broke records with its $117 million opening weekend.
Based on the popular best-selling book by Stephen King, It tells the story of seven very different kids living in Derry, Maine in the summer of 1989, with one similarity, they are all losers. Bill Denbrough is having a difficult time haunted by the loss of his brother Georgie, which eventually leads these seven kids to band together to form The Losers Club. Eventually, the kids find out that the entity behind these kidnappings and Georgie’s murder is “It”. Reminiscent of a boggart in Harry Potter that takes shape of your biggest fear, It takes many forms of the kids’ fears, including that of Pennywise the dancing clown.
Unlike the original Stephen King novel that told parallel stories set in the fifties and present-day (the 80s), the film tells only the portion set in the past, which in turn was the best choice they could have made because it gave director Andy Muschietti the ability to put full concentration on the development of the losers and a full understanding as to what brought them together.
The transition from the 50’s to 80’s to tell the story of the losers as kids was genius. Not only does it play well since Stephen King grew in popularity in the 80’s, with some of his best work published during this time, but it plays to the 80’s nostalgia factor made popular recently by Netflix’s Stranger Things. There were many 80’s references placed throughout the film including that of a New Kids On The Block, Gremlins, Beetlejuice, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind posters. They even feature the opening weekend of Batman on the town’s theater marquee. Batman, lest we forget, took on his own clown prince of crime. Coincidence, I think not.
What makes It so groundbreaking for the horror genre?
It sincerely made you care about its characters. My favorite and what I consider to be the greatest horror film of all time is Halloween, and while that film from a directing, story, scenic, and atmospheric side is perfect, outside of Laurie Strode, all the teenagers in the film are awful and little is fleshed out of these characters. Andy Muscheitti decides to blend genres and create not just a horror film, but a true coming of age tale of kids that are a bit different, bonding and growing together to not only discover themselves but to tackle the one thing even adults have a hard time taking down – FEAR.
Despite the fact that they are trying to take down our favorite dancing clown, It is really a story about fear, something everyone has in common. From the opening moments of the film, we see Georgie’s fear of strangers and it takes off from there as we are taken into each of the Losers’ lives away from each other to see that they are going through all something different but are still tied together by fear.
The Losers are just perfect. Their chemistry onscreen is infectious and quite frankly some of the best child performances I’ve seen in years. Every child brought something different. From Bill’s leadership of the group to Richie’s at time hysterical one-liners, to Ben’s romantic side, to Eddie’s germaphobia, each member of the Club has their own quirks and charisma. When they’re not being pursued by Pennywise, the Losers Club is doing what kids should do – having fun. While this could fit into just about any eighties film about disenfranchised youth; the first thought that came to mind after watching the film is The Goonies. Kids being kids in a time where the world seemed at ease, away from the constant social media obsession and where kids actually went outside and did things.
27 years ago, Tim Curry provided us with an iconic performance as Pennywise. 27 years later, Bill Skarsgard has made the character his own and put to the question which performance is the definitive Pennywise. Similarly to Nicholson and Ledger’s Joker, where the debate carries on to this day as to which was the best, both men have portrayed this character sensationally and brought their own creepy feel to the character.
Now we get to the biggest critique I’ve heard from people, “the movie is not all that scary.” From a cliché horror perspective – No, it is not all that scary and It does not rely on jump scares. While Pennywise is freakishly creepy, the film was not trying to be your everyday horror film. If you want that, go watch The Bye Bye Man for all that jump scare nonsense. Director Andy Muschietti picks his spots in making a camera linger, and connects the real scare of the film which is fear and mixes it with Pennywise in a fresh and unfamiliar way, which is a breath of fresh air.
It like Pennywise is a being of its own, a blend of The Goonies and A Nightmare on Elm Street. A film that like The Losers Club was not afraid to be different leads to a final product that combines the coming of age and horror genres beautifully and has given cinephiles an all-timer in the horror genre and one of the best films of 2017.
Reel Talk gives It 4 reels