IT, USA, 2017
It’s been twenty-seven years since IT’s predecessor haunted the silver screen: uncanny coincidence, or deliberate marketing ploy for a story about a monster known to resurface every twenty-seven years? Either way, Andy Muschietti’s interpretation of Stephen King’s 1986 horror novel presents a nostalgic reinvention of an iconic cult classic that takes us straight back to the 80’s, as if we’ve just jumped into a DeLorean time machine.
Mothers drive station-wagons, bullies drive muscle cars and the movie’s main circle of 13-year-old friends traverse the streets in Raleigh Choppers, “Goonies style”. Mullets and dungarees are everywhere, the new kid on the block is listening to New Kids On The Block, and the local cinema is showing Batman; everything about this picture screams 1988.
Despite the late eighties coolness in the air, the nursery song “Oranges and Lemons” menacingly turns up the heat, hauntingly creeping in and out of opening scenes, reminding us not to relax. Typical horror-string sounds add to this suspense as we roller-coaster through scenes where Pennywise, a petrifying clown inhabiting the local sewer system, terrorises the main characters one by one, manifesting as each of their biggest fears.
If that’s not scary enough, the movie inches us further on the edges of our seats with deliberate references to classic horrors: eyes illuminate in darkness like Gmork from The Neverending Story; mouths resemble multi-teeth Alien creatures; and Pennywise’s house stands as frighteningly crooked as the Klopek’s home in The ‘Burbs. Same-genre references extend into the movie’s cinematography – there’s a Psycho-esque bloody bathroom scene; a screen crawling reference to The Ring; and a puppet vein nod towards Nightmare on Elm Street 3. If Poltergeist had an affair with Child’s Play, surely IT would be the adult version of their love child?
Amidst this cold-blooded activity, the film pleasantly prescribes the perfect antidote to fear: humour. Just when think your heartbeat couldn’t get any faster, one-liners and sophomoric jokes are placed perfectly to relieve tension: cue allergy-ridden Eddie, misusing “gazebo” for “placebo” mid adrenaline-induced moment.
Like any scary movie worth it’s weight in perspiration, IT provides a terrifyingly well-balanced use of contrast in cinematography and screenplay. Red balloons cut through monochrome frames, vast countrysides juxtapose confined underground gruesomeness and there’s a general recurring struggle between good and evil. Bullies’ backstories ellicit empathy, child characters are plagued by the darker sides of their parents, and cameras pan out of sewers into overexposed afternoons at ghost-train speeds. Deliberate? We’re afraid to even think!
Then there’s the contrast of the characters: there’s the fat one, the stuttering one, the specky one, and the allergy-ridden one, each with individual ailments conveyed as personal challenges which is referenced throughout dialogue, again building empathy leaving us rooting for them even more.
“He didn’t stutter once”
The casting of the characters in itself is interesting with resemblances to yesteryear’s King actors everywhere. There’s the Annie Wilkes mollycoddling mother, the Percy Wetmore sadistic dad, the Ace bully and the dismissive Lachance father. Similarities to Teddy Duchamp, Gordie Lachance and Vern Tessio are blatant, and doesn’t the local Chemist scarily resemble the writer himself ? The nightmare of yesterday’s monsters plays havoc on our minds. With the exception of Bill Skarsgard playing Pennywise and Finn Wolfhard playing Eddie, the rest of the cast are relatively unknown, though some clever casting evokes a pleasant sense of familiarity around this generation’s ‘Brat Pack’.
Providing perfect pre-Halloween entertainment, two hours and fifteen minutes vanish into the shadows of a film that’s as spine-chillingly wonderful to watch for its references to the horror King-dom as it is for its direction, dialogue and cinematography. Special effects are to die for, and the cliffhanger is ironically wrapped up with a blood-oath, leaving no-one wishing to wait another twenty-seven-years to discover what happens next.
Don’t watch IT on your own. Don’t watch IT late at night. And, for heaven’s sake, if you’re coulrophobic, don’t watch IT at all.