IT movie review: A horror remake that finally works?

A rare modern remake that works, bringing chills, grit and shocking violence to the plot

Clowns are creepy. There’s something just odd about a person smudged in paint with bright sausage-y lipstick and perpetual crazy eyes laughing hysterically.

If the clown you met at the fun fair gave you the creeps, IT will just about find himself the creepiest clown put to film in recent memory. This is rare modern remake that works, honouring the heart of its source material, and delivering some proper chills.

Don’t let Tim Curry’s 1990 miniseries put you off. As brilliant as his performance was, it was perhaps not as frightening as it ought to be. The remake is, and doesn’t shy away from adding grit and shocking violence to the plot. 

It's strangely Stranger Things

You may be familiar with the opening sequence: a kid chasing a paper boat toward a drain, only to be surprised by IT, “Hello Georgie!” Without spoiling too much, let’s just say IT isn’t quite Stranger Things where nothing truly bad happens to kids (visually at least). IT harms children in menacing ways, bringing a sense of real terror that normal horror flicks involving kids wouldn’t dare to tread.

Then again, this isn’t a normal horror flick. It’s very much an adventure film with a scary antagonist, reminiscent of the Goonies or more recently, Super 8 and of course, Stranger Things (reoccurring actors can’t possibly be mere coincidence, and the various references to films of the era like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Batman remind us that this is very much a cineliterate film).

We meet the so-called “Losers Club”, a group of misfits from school. They’re the classic high school stereotypes; we have the chatterbox, the nerd, the leader and of course a mysterious girl who’s too cool for them.

Kids in town start vanishing and in no time, they find themselves tormented by IT in disturbing ways. They’ve nowhere to run or hide, and no adult to confide in – Because they’re kids, duh. In classic Spielberg-esqe fashion, it’s down to the kids to uncover the mystery of the psychotic clown and put an end to the helpless cases of kidnapped children. 

Characters first, horror second

As a film, “IT” works because characters are at the heart of the horror. The kids aren’t left merely as caricatures and stereotypes, but each has an elaborate backstory that sheds light on why they become so vulnerable to IT, who feasts on fear. We witness the kids endure traumatic experiences: Severe over-protection, being orphaned in tragic circumstances, dysfunctional families and domestic abuse – It even suggests molestation. It’s dark.

It is clear that these experiences have left with deep underlying pains and fears that lure the malicious clown. These struggles are almost impossible to shake off, hence IT becomes stronger than ever. 

Scariest clown in recent memory

Praise has to be given to Bill Skarsgard’s psychotic clown and the unnerving quality of his performance. It’s all about the subtle details – His lack of reaction to things that would usually bother us, such as sewage water dripping down one’s face. IT doesn’t flinch one bit, instead sustaining an unmoving gaze at his prey with twitching eyes and a hungry grin. It’s chilling.

The fear factor doesn’t lie solely on excellent performance, but also the conception. He isn’t bound by the rules of science or logic, appearing eerily in drains, images, boxes and surreal spaces.

Plenty of directors actively choose to conceal their antagonists and creatures, to retain a sense of mystery and fear of the unknown. IT is decidedly visualised and clear for audiences to see in full, which risks a sense of familiarity and eventually, fewer scares. But being much like a Boggart, who takes whatever form he wants, the sight of IT never gets repetitive as we’re kept on our toes, never knowing how he’ll reveal himself next. One moment he’s spewing blood out of a sink, another he’s grotesquely contorting out of a tiny box, rotating and cracking broken bones back into normal humanoid form - Keepin’ it fresh.