The story of It was iconic from the moment Stephen King’s novel became a hit back in 1986, and became a true cult-classic story when the TV miniseries starring Tim Curry as Pennywise the Dancing Clown hit ABC back in 1990. But now, in its first official big screen debut, how does this classic horror tale shape up? Pretty well as it so happens.

It’s difficult to take a horror story that was incredibly well established over 30 years ago and remake it into a modern horror blockbuster, especially when the standard of horror films in this decade spans from surprise hits like Paranormal Activity to works like Insidious. The main trope that is prevalent in a horror flick like It is that, when a story very famously invented the mantras of now-iconic motifs like scary clowns, it feels somewhat cliché in a modern remake, even if it was the story of It that made them cliché in the first place. But just because they’re a cliché does not mean that It doesn’t use them perfectly, which is exactly what It does.

For those who aren’t familiar with the history behind this Stephen King classic, I’ll explain. The original novel is about 1200 pages in length, which is the kind of length that is almost impossible to turn into a single movie without making an audience member sit there for about five hours. When the novel was turned into a TV miniseries in the 1990s, they decided to make it into two TV movie events, which is what they’re also doing here. As a result, this version of It (which I assume will eventually become retroactively known as It: Chapter One as the film’s end card suggests) is a presentation of the first half of the story. In this film, we meet a group of misfit pre-pubescent teenagers who have self-deprecatingly named themselves “The Losers Club”. Based in Derry, Stephen King’s hometown in Maine, the story revolves around this group and how they cope with the fact that Derry is renowned for an ever-growing number of missing children and murders that the adults are turning a blind eye to. They eventually discover the mystery is being orchestrated by a character they call “It” who regularly facades as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. The rest of the tale follows the losers trying to avoid their own deaths, while doing all they can to rid Derry of this evil creature.

I, personally, have never found the story of It to be particularly scary, but I think “disturbing” is a much better description of the mood it evokes and that’s still on show in this 2017 cinematic remake. A good way of explaining how scary this film is is to compare it to the likes of American Horror Story: it’s scary enough for it to be called “horror”, but it’s not the kind of thing that you should completely wipe-out just because you don’t like horror films on the most part. That isn’t to say that this film has softened anything up in this incarnation of the tale because, if anything, it’s much more brutal and graphic, but that just happens to be how scary this story could possibly be. After all, this is Stephen King and not Saw.

The cast of this remake are truly fantastic and when it’s an ensemble-style movie, that’s very important. There isn’t a weak link in the cast and especially not in the group of children, with personal favourites of mine being Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard’s performance as Richie (who is absolutely hilarious), Jack Dylan Grazer’s loveable performance as Eddie and Sophia Lillis’s very complex and layered portrayal of Beverley Marsh, probably the most endearing character in the film.

At first, I was worried about Bill Skarsgard’s performance as Pennywise, mainly because of how iconically creepy Tim Curry’s portrayal of the villain was in the original miniseries, but for me, he blew it out of the park. Skarsgard’s Pennywise is completely different to Curry’s – not even in the same realm – and it works perfectly for this adaptation, much like how Curry’s worked perfectly for that miniseries. If you were to put Curry in this version of the film, it would be almost comical because he just wouldn’t fit, but Skarsgard’s calculated and subtle performance was a perfect match for this piece.

Director Andy Muschietti, famous for his work on horror flick Mama, and director of photography Chung-hoo Chung really know how to turn this tale into a visual beauty. Unlike most horror films, the majority of this story takes place in broad daylight, so making the area look gorgeous enough to retain attention and scary enough to not look like the set of somewhat eerie Tim Burton tale is important. In this incarnation of the story, Derry has become a character in its own right with frequent wide-shots and landscapes that make you feel like you know this town much better than you really do. It’s also important to note here that this remake is set in the 1980s (the original Chapter One is set in the late 1950s) so it was vital for Muschietti, Chung and set decorator Rosalie Board to emphasise that as it’s important when held up as a contrast to the upcoming Chapter Two.

It’s also worth praising Muschietti’s direction here for managing to keep the film constantly interesting, which is also something to credited to this film’s screenwriters Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman. The film manages to stay very true to a majority of the novel, while remaining incredibly gripping throughout. Not once did I even feel the urge to check the time or wonder how long we had until the film ended and when the credits did eventually start to roll, all I wanted to do was sit there and wait for Chapter Two to begin.

If you’re looking for a horror film that will make you sleep with the light on, I personally don’t think that It is the horror movie for you. For the first time in as long as I can remember, we are experiencing a horror movie that feels like it’s for almost everyone and it’s become a cultural revolution at the same time (the film boasts becoming the most successful opening weekend at the box office in both horror and September history). If you’re a fan of the original story, Stephen King in general, or you just want to be involved in the conversation, don’t miss out on this. And even if you’re sceptical, go and test it out anyway; it’s a thoroughly enjoyable piece of film.

IT is in cinemas nationwide now.

★★★★☆