It: Chapter One (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Superior horror pictures attempt to pummel their audience into submission, whether it be in terms of providing consistent, well-earned scares or delivering an inescapable sense of foreboding through carefully calibrated atmosphere. Rarer still are those that employ both. These approaches do wonders to the latest interpretation of Stephen King’s “It,” this time based on the screenplay by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman, as it provides the requisite chills to render the viewer wide-eyed from terror and yet remain most curious as to what might happen to the young spirited protagonists and whether they would find a way to rid of the evil that plagues their small town.
Credit to the casting by Rich Delia for finding seven performers (Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, Chosen Jacobs, Wyatt Oleff) who not only fit the ‘80s milieu but also effortlessly embody how it is like to be an outcast. Here is one of the strongest cast in horror films in quite some time. Each person is able to carry his or her own when it comes to both gasp-inducing encounters with Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgård) and moments of dramatic gravity designed to highlight each young teenager’s backstory. To top it all off, every one of them conveys a specific personality and temperament. By the end of this chapter, we appreciate each individual character and we know why he or she is a critical piece of the Losers Club.
Notice how its scares command range. Inferior horror movies tend to rely on one trick—jump scares, for example—to get a reaction from us. On the other hand, observe how scenes unscrew and unfold in this particular work. It is patient, willing to take its time for tension to take root before getting to the punchline. And when it finally gets to the punchline… sometimes it goes on. We grow uneasy or are rendered off-balanced because lazy horror films that many of us have gotten accustomed to simply move onto the next scene once the scare is revealed. Certain images that stuck with me are those of Pennywise laying or standing still when his victim has found a way to escape. I admired how the camera manages to capture a personification of evil and how willing it is to show us one of its faces.
In horror pictures, I think it is so important to establish a sense of mythos, especially when the story involves a haunting in house or a small town. It is a way of engaging us and making us want to know more about a specific story with a specific setting, to care about what is going to happen next. Although the material does not drill too deeply in Derry’s questionable history, given that it is in fact the first half of the whole piece, it provides the necessary seeds for further exploration. Images shown in books and newspaper articles are appropriately strange and creepy. When the historian of the group sits in the town library to peruse old pages, I found myself wanting to join him and read up on what they are up against.
Teeming with effective nightmare imagery, “It: Chapter One,” directed by Andy Muschietti, provides an unsettling experience. It is so confident in supplying comedy right next to moments that may likely go horribly awry, vice-versa. The result is an exciting, thrilling, and unpredictable picture—one that has solid replay value. Here is a great example on how to make a mainstream horror film without the unnecessary and cheap flourishes that overrun disappointments within the genre. It understands that the genre requires a high level of craft.