Its official, CLOWNS…ARE…THE…WORST! They are unbelievably creepy, especially when Andres Muschietti (director) amps them all the way to 11. IT absolutely freaked me out. When I got home after watching IT, I honestly felt more scared than a cat seeing a cucumber for the first time (if you have no idea what I’m talking about you have to youtube it…or, you know, put a cucumber by your own cat). The reason I got so scared from this film is because the characters and scene execution work together to bring overpowering tension to the film.
Andres Muschietti did a phenomenal job focusing on making characters the foundation of the film. In the majority of horror films that I’ve seen, studios focus on creating a solid horror premise and completely forget about creating quality characters. Sharknado couldn’t prove my point more. Those sharks are the real heroes for saving the world one horrible character at a time! Thank god IT focused on the characters first and let the horror premise shine through them. This approach is so effective because it made me genuinely care about the characters, which makes the scares hit home in a personal way.
So how did the main characters shine in the film? It’s simple, they were written as actual middle schoolers…complete with F-bombs and horrible mom jokes. We all remember how cool we thought we were if we made a raunchy mom joke, right? Ahh, middle school…you were the worst! But these young actors did a fantastic job bringing these characters to the big screen. Their timing and inflection landed perfectly, not only individually but as a group. For example, the scene that stood out to me was when Billy (Jaeden Lieberher), Richy (Finn Wolfhard, Stranger Things), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) enter the sewer looking for Georgie. Billy and Richy are inside the sewer while Eddie and Stanley are too scared to go in. The scene mainly plays out as banter back and forth between Richy and Eddie but that highlights each character’s purpose to the narrative. Billy is quiet because he is focused on his mission to save his lost brother. Richy uses comedy to mask his own fear (and serves up some pretty awesome comic relief!). Eddie is terrified to go into the sewer and has no problem voicing any concern to get out of “playing” in the sewer. Richy is absolutely petrified and hides it by not saying anything until the end. Not only does each of the characters’ motivations shine through, but it also gave me something to connect my fear to. Most of us respond to fear like one of these four kids. By seeing how these kids respond to fear through this brief scene, we can connect to at least one of these characters. This makes us feel the same fear as the kids while watching the film. Its moments like these that separate a great horror film from a half-assed one.
Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard)
Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise was so terrifying that I think he surpassed the little girl from The Ring as the creepiest person in a horror film. The question is, what made this god-awful clown so creepy? It really comes down to two things. The first plays off of the cornerstone for any good horror premise. You take something that is stereotypically supposed to be one way and then do the opposite with it. Think of why the girl in The Ring is so creepy. Children are stereotypically innocent, care-free, and full of laughter. That chick was definitely not that! She was a demonic little girl that sucked the life out of everything, literally! The same works for Pennywise. Clowns are supposed to be funny, silly, and extremely child friendly. Pennywise did the exact opposite, but the trick is in how Skarsgard executed that. Most clowns are silly because of their dancing, laughing, and smiling. Pennywise was terrifying because he tainted his dancing, laughing, and smiling in a way that was unsettling to say the least. The second way Skarsgard created a terrifying Pennywise was through pure unpredictability. His voice, movements, and appearance all seem random. You never know if he is going to start dancing or literally bite your arm off. RIP Georgie. I especially loved the unpredictability of his appearance. Not knowing what form this shape-shifting clown would take next was brilliant. It kept the suspense going because I had no idea what was going to be around the next corner. Overall, Bill Skarsgard did a phenomenal job bringing Pennywise the Dancing Boggart to the big screen.
Andres Muschietti’s scene execution really set this film apart from other films in the genre. By that I mean he did a great job using shot styles and lighting to help tell these kids’ stories. The first shot style I noticed was that Muschietti used a lot of canted camera angles, aka the Dutch tilt angle (or as the Dutch call it…a tilted angle). These titled camera shots helped set the stage for the horror scenes because they give off an uneasy vibe. There is something that just isn’t right. I love that Muschietti used a lot of subtle canted angles, which made me feel uneasy without drawing a lot of attention to the shot.
Muschietti also used close up shots of Pennywise where his face remained still but the background moved. The scene where he charges Richie in the room of clowns is a perfect example. It works perfectly for intense situations where all of the attention needs to stay focused on one thing. This scene focused on Pennywise’s face as he charged closer and closer to Richy. This camera shot is so effective! The way that Pennywise’s face stands out against the background makes Pennywise feel like a charging, overwhelming force. I loved that this shot was used sparingly so that it didn’t lose its impact throughout the film.
The final shot type that I noticed was Muschietti’s…extremely…slooooow…shots. It almost seems like the camera moves so slow that a snail could crawl off screen. This slow panning shot made me wonder what was beyond the next corner. I’m talking about when the camera followed the floating balloon across the library; or even when the camera slowly zooms in on Billy during the projector scene. The slow camera movements made me think, what is the shot panning to? Am I about to throw this popcorn on this awkward first date behind me? Am I going to be terrified by what happens next? I loved how this shot kept the suspense going and kept me guessing the whole way through.
Lighting can be a very valuable tool to draw people into a film. Don’t believe me? Try watching the state-of-the-art action movies my friends and I made in grade school. Those made low budget slasher films look like masterpieces! In IT’s case, Muschietti’s lighting really brought me into the film. The film was primarily filmed with a muted (dark) color palette to set a tone of eeriness and horror. The dark color palette made it seem like evil was lurking in every corner. Muschietti gave a good twist on the dark color palette by mixing in some bright colors at the perfect moments. For example, the red in Pennywise’s balloons popped (no pun intended) against the muted backgrounds. This contrast made me focus all of my attention on the red balloons because I knew something bad was going to happen. My favorite example of bright and muted color contrast is in the scene where the boys first enter the sewer drain. Two boys are inside the sewer while two are outside. The brilliance was in how muted the colors were inside the tunnel and how colorful it was outside. I know, I know, even a blind Captain Obvious wouldn’t have to point out that it is dark inside a sewer and bright outside. But the different color palettes was a specific choice with a specific purpose. It portrayed the idea that danger lurked inside the sewer. The kids would have to leave the bright and colorful, aka safe, riverbed and go inside the sewer where danger lurked around every bend. Granted the obvious color palette didn’t help the kids’ decision making processes. Personally, I’m listening to the color palettes and staying outside of the sewer! Sorry Georgie, you failed the only job you had in the film!…DON’T trust the creepy clown inside the darkly lit sewer drain. This one’s on you buddy!
Tension Through Patience
What does IT have that so many other horror films fail miserably in? Patience. IT has more patience than happy DMV customers. The reason so many horror films fail at patience is because it is extremely hard to pull off. Its an art really. There has to be the perfect amount of tease before a horror scene. Not enough and the film feels rushed. Too little and the audience falls asleep. The key to patience is to focus on the connective tissue so that the horror scenes feel more authentic. How did Muschietti do this? He masterfully uses story driven character development. When kids aren’t being eaten alive by creepy clowns, Muschietti is developing great characters and even briefly discussing bullying. Muschietti used the characters as the film’s backbone, which allowed him to use authentic character driven scenes to build the tension for the upcoming horror scenes.
Now, lets talk about Muschietti’s patience when it come to executing a horror scene. As much as my sleep schedule wishes Muschietti didn’t pull this off, I’m so glad he did! The horror scenes demonstrated some of the best patience I’ve ever seen…and no scene showcases patience better than that infamous projector scene. The scene started off with the kids slowly piecing together that Pennywise is using the sewers. This dialogue (accommpanied by slow zooming shots and eerie music) starts to build the tension as the kids start to figure out how much danger is around the town. The tension kicks into the next gear when the projector starts to malfunction. The slow, prolonged clicking of the projector let me know that some crazy stuff was about to go down. As the projector clicks sped up, my adrenaline started to pump faster. The audio from the projector, combined with the clown’s reveal in the pictures, was absolutely perfect. I loved how Muschietti had one of the kids seemingly break the tension by kicking the projector down…until the projector started clicking slowly again. Then the tension spiked with a perfectly executed jump scare from a 30 ft. Pennywise popping out of the projector image. Most jump scares are pointless and actually destroy a scene’s tension. This scene used the jump scare to build the tension because Muschietti did not give a moment to relax after the jump scare. That frickin clown started charging around the room like a crazed dog. That is how a horror scene should use patience to scare big, burly men into middle school girls.
While I’m not a big horror fan, I really liked this film because first and foremost, it was a great story with great characters. I genuinely cared about what happened to the characters during the horror scenes, which made them 10 times more intense. I’m going to regret watching the sequel in 2019, but I can’t wait to learn more about our favorite inter-dimensional clown!