‘It’ Review: The best Stephen King horror adaptation since “The Shining”

In Arts & Entertainment, Film & TV, Lifestyle, Multimedia, Reviews
(Hannah Miller / Daily Titan)

“It” is a rare breed of Hollywood horror that leaves its audience in a perpetual state of unease, yet ends on a note that uplifts while it chills. One doesn’t have to be familiar with the Stephen King novel or the Tim Curry miniseries from the ‘90s to fall in love with this film’s grotesque, earnest soul.

The story is familiar, especially to those who have watched Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” which takes inspiration from King’s works. A group of kids are stalked by nightmarish images inspired by their greatest fears, not realizing until they confide in each other that they are being hunted by an ancient evil that lives beneath their small town. This evil usually takes the form of a dancing clown named Pennywise, and is responsible for a series of child murders.

The graphic death of a little boy opens the film, showing the audience that no child onscreen is safe from Pennywise. While the bone-chilling performance by Bill Skarsgård certainly helps, what makes Pennywise such a terrifying opponent is just how genuinely scared the cast of kids seem of all the special effects and gore surrounding them. The performance feels natural for actors who are so young, whether they are screaming in terror or embracing one another in a moment of surprising tenderness. Everything outside of the killer clown’s manipulations feels grounded and real, making scares that could have seemed absurd and silly in a lesser production feel ominous.

While the clown is the major selling point, some of the scariest things in “It” are the non-creature monsters known as adults. When the kids aren’t battling supernatural forces, they are grappling with the harsh controlling nature of warped grown-ups. This includes scenes that involve a father with a non-platonic fascination with his daughter and a boy who is kept in a constant state of terror about the outside world thanks to his chronically overprotective mother. “It” is not afraid of exploiting childhood for the sake of horror, regardless of how painful it can be to watch.

This dark subject matter makes director Andy Muschietti’s ability to end the film in a way that is both poignant and empowering to those who live in fear their entire lives truly impressive. While the makeup and CGI effects for Pennywise are all dutifully effective and unsettling, this is not a movie about a creepy clown. Like many great horror films before “It,” the basis of the story’s theme is about coming face-to-face with trauma, tangible or supernatural. The children of “It” deal with life-changing tragedy and stifling terror; whether they come out of it all alive is less unsettling than how the events of the film will impact the rest of their lives.

Perhaps the film’s only real flaw is that all the material explored is going to be familiar to those who have seen the 1990’s television series and the many films and programs which drew inspiration from “It.” This adaptation is more effective both in performances and direction, but the story is still well-worn. It is the extra attention spent on the characters and their plights that makes this version more fresh than that which had come before, not its admittedly basic storyline.

“It” not only floats, but uncompromisingly soars right into the darkest corners of childhood, solidifying itself as the best Stephen King adaptation since Stanley Kubrick visited the Overlook Hotel 37 years ago.

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