There Will Be Criticism: It
By Simon Tessmer
Editor's Note: There Will Be Criticism is a weekly column by Simon Tessmer, a film student at MSU. Tessmer's other reviews can be read on his blog. Tessmer's criticism will be published on Fridays. Check out his last weekly column on "Tulip Fever" here.
IT is a carefully made, chilling horror film that features reliable scare gags, creative creature design, and excellent performances. Tonally flexible, the movie oscillates between 80s nostalgia, coming-of-age genre elements (both sweet and comedic), and terrifying imagery to generate a narrative that effectively communicates broad thematic messaging on childhood and the oppressive authority of parents.
The film stars Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, and Jack Dylan Grazer as a group of middle schoolers targeted by It, which presents frequently as Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård), a supernatural evil force that terrorizes and captures children. After the loss of Bill’s (Lieberher) younger brother Georgie (Jackson Rober Scott) to the nightmarish apparition, an investigation of his and others’ kidnapping’s leads the young team to discover the hellish machinations of It, and journey to defeat it.
Being a full-blown genre piece, the primary indicator of IT’s success is its scariness. The film relies on varied types of scares to send chills down spines, the primary ones employed being jump scares, (somewhat) prolonged tension, and body/creature horror.
Though the movie’s ability to sustain tension beyond its signaled “scary scenes” is lackluster, its creative visual design and clever exploration of its villain’s supernatural abilities supplies ample fear throughout the movie’s runtime. IT’s presentation of scare gags resembles somewhat a musical with many quick numbers, supplied in a comfortable enough rhythm and counterbalanced with tonally opposed scenes and subplots to make the viewing experience less a grueling endeavor and more a fun freaky time.
The film’s strongest feature, which of course contributes to its genre appeal, is its performances. Its child ensemble is remarkably strong, with Lieberher, Taylor, and Lillis shining as believably troubled youths who undergo compelling character arcs.
In coming-of-age films so much rests on the strength of its core youthful cast, and IT avoids the pitfalls of saccharine, obvious emotional plays or annoying, overwrought child acting. Skarsgård is excellent as Pennywise, making good use of his angular mouth and raspy vocals to portray a bizarrely funny and terrifying demon clown.
As the movie traverses tones from scene to scene, gory and horrifying in one moment, immediately heartfelt the next, sweetly funny the next, the result can be jarring. One moment in particular stands out, where a grotesque and horrifying scene in a bathroom is followed closely by a kind of hokey 80s-style montage in the same bathroom. The sharpness of the tonal jump broke my mesmerized stare at the cinema screen and elicited a chuckle.
Though the necessity of tonal variety in a horror film of this length is apparent, the fearlessness of IT to plunge its audience immediately into opposing situations requires patience and flexibility.
Despite my history of avoiding horror films, IT represents such loving and careful work that I could not help but have fun. The grooviness of being spooked worked its magic on me, and I found myself curiously enjoying the sight of small children being terrified at the hands of a killer clown.