With fall upon us it’s time for Hollywood to bring out the big guns and regale us with more serious fare. The last few weekends were nearly devoid of any watchable content, but Warner Brothers and New Line are making up for that with the long-in-development reboot of IT. Imagined as a two-part film series, the latest version of the Stephen King horror novel with the evil clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) at its epicenter is everything you’d want in a genre feature. It’s terrifying, funny, sad, emotional, sentimental and even romantic. So when I say IT is everything, it truly is.

IT was directed by relative newcomer Andy Muschietti (Mama) and written by Muschietti, Gary Dauberman, Chase Palmer and Cary Fukunaga. As mentioned, IT spent nearly 8 years in development, and Fukunaga, known best as the director and executive producer of the first season of HBO’s True Detective, was IT’s original director before he dropped due to creative differences. Muschietti replaced him and reworked the Fukunaga-Palmer script with Dauberman in order stay within budget and remain true to the novel. This time IT is set in the 1980’s and centers around the book’s central characters, the Losers Club, when they were still children. In the small town of Derry, they are haunted by an unusual amount of missing persons, coupled with surreal nightmares which focus on their biggest fears and always seem to include a creepy dancing clown.

IT’s main protagonist is Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), who has possibly the greatest emotional investment since his baby brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) went missing and is presumed dead. With school done for the summer, Bill is on a quest to find Georgie and enlists the help of his friends, Richie (Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Stan (Wyatt Oleff). Besides the personal quest, the Losers Club do the typical kid things – curse, talk tough, run, play and avoid bullies like Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton). During the group’s search they befriend other outsiders – Beverly (Sophia Lillis), rumored to be the town harlot; Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the studious and fat new kid; and Mike (Chosen Jacobs), the orphaned home-schooler. All of them experience chilling events in which Pennywise preys upon their worst fears, and individually they are helpless against him. But they discover a way to possibly defeat Pennywise and finally lift his curse and uninterrupted reign as a supernatural child abductor.

If nothing else, those who grew up in the 80’s will appreciate Muschietti’s faithful time warp. The 80’s were a simpler time for kids – no reliance on technology outside of maybe Nintendo, no abundance of child predators and no worries outside of being a kid. The Losers Club spend most of their time outdoors - exploring and getting into typical trouble. With this coming on the heels of the wildly successful Netflix series Stranger Things, younger viewers can use this as a point of reference and will understand what inspired the Duffer brothers to create their pop culture phenomenon (it’s rumored that the Duffer brothers wanted to direct IT but they were unknowns before their show was released). IT can also be compared to The Goonies and Stand by Me, two films released in the 80’s which stress the importance of friendship and how it can be used to overcome great obstacles. First and foremost, IT is a horror film, which means it should line up better with The Monster Squad. The problem with that film is that it isn’t nearly as good or as memorable as The Goonies or Stand by Me, so we’ll pretend I never mentioned it. Regardless, the new setting (King’s book was set in 1950’s Derry, Maine) is perfect in providing nostalgia for audiences.

Worth mentioning, since we’re on the subject of nostalgia, there is plenty of humor in IT, despite the abundance or searing horror. There are plenty of memorable and hilarious quotes (which obviously I won’t spoil), but the pop culture references help make this an unforgettable trip down memory lane. The humor provides a welcome balance because Muschietti goes straight to eleven with his brand of horror. The humor is necessary, in my opinion, and IT is that much better with it.

Besides the fantastic setting, acting across the board is strong. Directing children is one of the toughest chores in Hollywood, but Muschietti seemingly handled it with ease. The highlight is Lieberher, and he has plenty of acting experience, having worked alongside the likes of Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst and Adam Driver. Learning from those talented actors shows since Bill has the greatest emotional arc in IT. Besides Lieberher, Lillis is a amazing find as Beverly (the jury is out on whether she will have the same cultural impact as Millie Bobby Brown’s Eleven in Stranger Things). Her character may be the most troubled since she has to endure both public ridicule and personal abuse at the hands of her father. It’s rumored that IT’s follow-up will feature Jessica Chastain as the adult Beverly. She would be perfect to complete that story arc and she’ll be working with Lillis’ rousing turn.

Oh yeah, and even though Pennywise is already in the horror hall of fame, Bill Skarsgard is incredible as the crazed clown, meaning he did everything right and upholds the character’s legacy. The amazing Tim Curry is greatly remembered for his turn as Pennywise on the 1990 miniseries, but Skarsgard is just as memorable with his more sinister take.

After watching plenty of garbage the last few weeks, IT has arrived at the perfect time. It is easily the best film out this fall and will be in the conversation as one of the year’s best horror films. Its appeal, though, travels well beyond the horror genre and thus should find success with a great amount of viewers. It is a great complement to Stranger Things (or to be more respectful, Stranger Things is the perfect complement to IT) and has a high rewatch value. On a budget of just $35 million it looks polished, so they either went with a sparse amount of special effects, or the talent budget was a huge bargain, or maybe cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung (Park Chan-wook’s longtime DP) has an amazing eye. It’s probably a combination of all three, but regardless this is a must-watch, even if you’re too scared to see horror films.

4.5 stars out of 5


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