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Even in the face of some lofty expectations, Andy Muschietti's IT has done something spectacular with its stunning box office run and phenomenal critical reception. Coming in hot after a decidedly lackluster August, the Stephen King adaptation has made an insane amount of money and has handily become the highest-grossing R-rated horror flick of all time. It's an impressive accomplishment, and it most certainly didn't happen by accident. With that in mind, let's dive in and examine all of the reasons why IT has turned into an unprecedented horror win.
The Film Makes Smart Changes To The Source Material
Right off the bat, fans of the source material will likely recognize that IT is not a 1:1 adaptation of Stephen King's source material. Several infamous sequences (such as the orgy scene) have been cut from the film, the subplot involving The Losers Club as adults has been saved for the sequel and the monsters that Pennywise manifests have changed from pop culture icons to more personal phobias. Adapting a well-known and popular book almost always represents a distinct challenge for a filmmaker, but Andy Muschietti made some fantastic changes to the IT story that keep it timeless and personal, while also saving some strong storylines for the inevitable IT 2. It goes to show that something doesn't have to be exactly like the book that inspired it to resonate with audiences.
IT Earns Its R-Rating
Over the course of the last generation of horror movies, we have seen an odd phenomenon take place. Either a movie finds itself completely neutered through editing to achieve a PG-13 rating, or it pushes the envelope and goes all in on an R. IT does neither of those things. Although it is certainly a violent, vulgar (let's be honest, you probably swore that much as a kid too) and downright nasty movie at times, Andy Muschietti's Stephen King adaptation earns its R-rating with smart use of blood and gore. Nothing depicted in the film feels without consequence, and the sheer intensity of the violence ultimately serves the plot by letting The Losers Club (and by extension, the audience) know what is at stake in this film.
The Film Uses Just The Right Amount Of Pennywise
Despite his status as the central antagonist of the film, as well as his prominence in the movie's marketing campaign, Bill Skarsgard's Pennywise the Dancing Clown seldom feels overexposed throughout the run of IT's story. It can be easy for a horror film to lean on a strong creature design or the iconography of a particular monster (which is something that many slasher franchises fell victim to during the subgenre's heyday), but IT feels distinct because of Pennywise's prolonged absences from the screen. Andy Muschietti shows a commendable restraint with the character, and that willingness to withhold him from the audience pays off by making him a scary figure lurking in the shadows, rather than an aggressive monster always popping out at our heroes.
A Near-Perfect Marketing Campaign
A film's marketing can play a massive role in whether or not fans will turn out to see it, and the trailers for IT were some of the best horror movie previews that we have seen in quite a while. Rather than falling back on many of the traditional tropes of modern trailers (acoustic covers of classic songs, sampling the Inception horns, giving away crucial spoilers, etc), IT's trailer only conveyed the creepiness of Derry, Maine while also utilizing a decidedly unnerving repetition scheme. Whether it was "you'll float too" chanted over and over again, or "kill them all," the trailers for IT were simple, yet effective, and managed to bring in a large segment of the moviegoing populace that might have otherwise skipped IT based solely on its premise.
The Scares Are Actually Well-Constructed
In general, the horror genre has experienced a massive surge in quality over the course of the last few years, and much of that transition has involved the crafting of better (a.k.a non-jump) scares. In that regard, IT represents the genre at the top of its game. Seldom falling back on the same trick more than once, IT is a masterclass in sustained tension, proper build-up and fantastic payoff for some truly impressive on-screen scares. Horror fans go to horror movies to have the daylights scared out of them; when a film can actually deliver on that promise, the payoff can be huge. Like Get Out, It Comes At Night and Annabelle: Creation, IT continues 2017's trend of horror movies that can legitimately terrify even the most seasoned fan.
IT Tells A Thematically Rich Story
Through all of the scares and screams, one thing remains pretty clear throughout the bulk of IT's runtime: it's about something. The film clearly takes the themes of friendship, family and the innocence of youth incredibly seriously, and every set piece in the movie feels designed to serve those ideas in some form or another. In that regard, IT doesn't just feel like a run-of-the-mill horror movie. Sure, it has plenty of great scary moments for horror fans to enjoy, but it also features many heartwarming moments and ideas that a typical moviegoer can latch onto as well. Even if you're not the type of person who would see a scary movie, IT can still draw you in with its Stranger Things-esque focus on nostalgia.
IT Has Characters You Want To Care About
Last, but certainly not least, we come to one of the biggest reasons for IT's success: The Losers Club is a young group of heroes that audiences can empathize with and appreciate on a purely character level. Nobody in the group merely serves as cannon fodder for Pennywise to kill, and everyone has an undeniably human (and sometimes very funny) emotional throughline that makes sense. By fleshing out each of these young protagonists and giving them arcs that resonate with us, director Andy Muschietti has created a story that can work for audiences who might not traditionally flock to a scary movie. The blood gets the horror fans in the door, but The Losers Club keeps the mainstream audiences in the seats.