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When he came aboard the latest adaptation of Stephen King’s acclaimed story of seven kids who band together to destroy an evil force that has taken over their small town, director Andy Muschietti had a Herculean task ahead of him with IT. Beyond just the fact that fans’ expectations for this project have been at an all-time high ever since the new movie was announced, there was also a wealth of material to contend with in the book that needed to somehow be distilled into a runtime of a little over two hours, and Muschietti also had to find a group of young actors that could contend with weighty themes far beyond their years as well as a versatile actor that could bring a new iteration of Pennywise to life.

To get all these elements to come together successfully is the very definition of challenging, and yet, somehow Muschietti makes it all look easy with IT, confidently proving that he was the perfect choice to helm the ambitious project for Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema. There have been numerous King adaptations over the last 40 years, and some of them are all-timers in the world of genre cinema (Carrie (1976), Stand By Me, The Shining [1980], Misery, Salem’s Lot [1979], and The Mist (2007), to name a few), so for those of you wondering just how well this IT stacks up alongside its fellow King-centric cinematic endeavors, I’d say that Muschietti’s IT is a top five contender, easily. Everything about the film hits all the perfect notes—the cast, the score, the aesthetic, the unflinching horror, and an astute attention to the details—making IT one of the very best horror movies to come out during 2017.

If you’ve read the novel, or you’ve seen the 1990 miniseries, then you know the basic story beats to IT: there’s an evil force that has been plaguing the town of Derry, Maine, and it’s only something that the kids in the neighborhood can see, making the adults pretty much worthless when it comes to keeping the children in the area safe. A group of kids, dubbed the “Losers’ Club,” come together one fateful summer to battle the mysterious and malevolent killer, creating a bond that will unite them as friends forever.

From the film’s opening scenes featuring the gruesome attack on a young Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott), it’s evident that Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman aren’t screwing around when it comes to tapping into the horrific and often shocking violence contained within the pages of King’s source material. We see how the disappearance of Georgie, as well as countless other kids, have deeply impacted the community of Derry in a variety of ways—the adults have slipped into this hazy existence of denial while the younger generations seem to be the only ones keenly aware of the danger that is looming all around them.

For Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), his world hasn’t been the same since he sent his little brother out to play in the rain that fateful day, but his buddies Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff) are doing their best to keep their minds off Georgie’s heinous fate. With summer vacation 1989 underway, the trio befriend “New Kid” Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the fiery Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), and homeschooler Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) after they all realize they have far more in common than just being awkward teens in the same town. Not only must they contend with the cruel bullying of Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and his gang of dim-witted thugs, but they’re all being tormented by horrific visions of their deepest fears, manipulated by a clown entity known as Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård).

The members of the newly monikered “Losers’ Club” decide that they’re done being terrorized and rise up to put an end to Pennywise’s psychotic shenanigans once and for all. And for anyone who is familiar with the novel, IT the movie covers all the bases when it comes to giving us a kid-centric story. But don’t expect a strict rehash of King’s original novel, either, as Muschietti offers up a few twists that keep this iteration of IT from feeling like a complete retread of familiar territory. There are a few things that get switched up in this version that I really dug, but to go into them further would venture into spoilers, and I don’t want to do that here.

The design of Pennywise is absolutely inspired, and I must tip my hat to Muschietti as well as the team from Studio ADI who really tap into a look of this creature that feels more in line with the timelessness of the character as he’s laid out in King’s book. The stark whiteness with shocking bits of orange and red, coupled with the vintage clown attire, works exceedingly well, and even the digital components to Pennywise work beautifully in tandem with the practical effects to create something truly special. The way King describes a lot of the fantastical elements in IT have always been ambitious, and they were outside the realm of possibility to portray in their entirety back during the days of the 1990s miniseries, so it was cool to see more of that initial vision of Pennywise brought to fruition here. It’s so incredibly badass.

The performances in IT are stellar from top to bottom. Skarsgård is an inspired choice as the demonic clown, and he does a brilliant job of separating this iteration of the iconic villain from Tim Curry’s version that has (rightfully) stuck with fans for nearly three decades now. The kids in the Losers’ Club are all downright wonderful, too, and honestly, I could watch three more movies featuring all of these actors just palling around. Their likeability is infectious and their chemistry feels genuine and grounded, and for anyone who happened to be in their pre-teens around 1989 (like this writer), there’s a lot to these relationships that feels wholly authentic. I loved these kids, and Muschietti hit a gold mine with his entire ensemble.

Another amazing aspect to IT is its exceptional production design, especially the Neibolt House, which becomes a true house of horrors during the film’s third act. There’s a real purposefulness to the insides of Neibolt, and the way production designer Claude Paré taps into the details of that location, as well as a few others (especially Pennywise’s lair in the sewers), is so hideously beautiful. I can’t wait to see the film again just to really hone in on all the details peppered throughout the various locales.

Honestly, there’s not much else to say about IT because I feel like the film is pretty much a home run waiting to happen at this point, and I’m so excited to see how fans are going to react to the film, and watch everyone fall in love with these kids and Skarsgård as Pennywise, too. Fans of King’s work have been fortunate to have a lot of great adaptations of his work over the years, but IT stands out as one of the very best, and I’m already anxiously looking forward to the second chapter in this cinematic story.

Movie Score: 5/5

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