Starring: Bill Skarsgaard, Jaden Liberher, Finn Wolfhard
Director: Andy Muschietti
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
“It Takes Many Forms”
A paper boat coated in wax glides along the drainage indentation on the side of a tarmacadam road in Derry, Maine one rainy day in the late 1980’s. It flits down the street followed briskly by a boy in a yellow raincoat. He joyously chases the boat so focused on it he doesn’t see a street sign which knocks him to his bottom. Looking up to see the boat get away from him he tries to close the distance between him and the boat before it heads into the sewer drain. However it is too late, the boy lost the paper boat in the drain. Not wanting to face the music from his brother who crafted the boat, he bends to his knees to see if he can salvage it. To his own surprise, he is met by a clown in the sewer grate who has the paper boat in his hand. The clown smiles back at the boy and the boy is reluctant despite the clown’s obliging demeanor at first. The clown introduces himself as Pennywise, “the Dancing Clown” and already knows the boy’s name. “Oh! Well, I’m Pennywise, “the Dancing Clown.” “Pennywise?”. “Yes?”, “Meet Georgie”. “Georgie, meet Pennywise”. The clown’s face then stops dead and his happy disposition turns sour after Georgie tells him he should get going. “ Oh! Without your boat? You don’t wanna lose it, Georgie. Bill’s gonna kill you! Here. Take it.” The boy reaches for the boat then Pennywise baits the child further.
Just as the boat is securely in the boy’s hand Pennywise’s mouth extends out with an inner jaw clamping down on the boy’s arm its teeth severing through the boy’s tender muscle and skin.
The boy recoils screaming and crying. That scream that only comes from the worst places. The different crying scream, an impalpable scream coming from the pit of the boy’s lungs. The scream that turns your stomach cold. It’s an out of key scream that goes up and down decibels but keeps its volume and never lets up. The boy takes a few weak staggered steps backward, clutching the stump where his arm once was before slumping over to the ground. The clown’s hand extends from the drain dragging him down off camera to the deep recesses of the pitch black sewer drain.
IT started with possibly the most horrifying daunting scene audiences will ever experience. Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) and Bill (Jaeden Liberher) have a typical small town sibling relationship, In the space of about ten minutes their relationship is immediately apparent very loving and touching to the viewer. Georgie chasing the boat and meeting Pennywise taps into that instinctual feeling you have probably experienced if you have ever seen a young child playing by the roadside while a car reverses. You see the very real danger but you push it to the back of your mind and try to forget about it because that awful thing wouldn’t happen… would it?
IT takes the unspoken rule of kids never being harmed on film, an established norm keeping us in our comfort zone, breaks it and unrelentingly taunts us with it. The whole scene is a gut punch that you won’t get over until long after the credits have rolled.
After the opening, the movie kicks into high gear introducing Bill and his fellow members of the “Losers club”. The smart-mouthed but sweet Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) a hypochondriac hounded constantly by his overbearing overprotective mother, and Stanley (Wyatt Olef) a shy and more conservative kid pressured into religion by his parents.
The main cast comes in and out of rotation. The orphan Mike (Chosen Jacobs) is built up to be an important character during his introduction but gets little to no screen time.
This quickly becomes the film’s biggest hole in the boat (pun intended), the whole way through especially in the movie’s second act, when scenes hasten to their outcome. This pushes the time we should have had to grow with the characters and learn more about them. Instead, we only get a glimpse of who they are, their motivations and their relationships. Which in turn lead almost entirely to nothing.
On the other side of the same coin, there are characters that we do get to see quite a lot of in a small amount of time. They are really well fleshed out in comparison to other parts that are also sharing center stage. Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is the typical fat kid. He’s also new in school making his awkward teenage years all the more difficult. Ben shows the most heroism and ingenuity through a large portion of the film.
During a scene taking place in his room, we can see he has cartographic maps and historical photos covering the walls (he is also quick to hide his X rated magazines before letting the group come in). Even if we didn’t have the dialogue to layer out some characteristics, the room tells us much about him without the need for an exhibition dump showing that IT and it’s subsequent director are very capable of telling a story without the need for constant chatter. When Ben came to Derry, he unearthed most of its history due to his inquisitive nature. During later scenes, we see Ben is the first to react for the sake of his new found friends. The curtain is pulled back on Ben presenting more than the overweight loner and revealing a smart and compassionate person.
Ben’s internal character is shown during a scene when the bully’s ringleader is about to cut Mike. Ben and the gang happen past this and Mike runs to them for help as they debate whether they should do something about it or not. Ben doesn’t stop to think, he immediately screams and picks up a rock to lay fire down on the bullies. In very little time we come to appreciate and grow incredibly fond of Ben.
Beth (Sophia Lillis) goes through the tormenting, angst-filled teenage years in high school with the usual gossip and other ongoings that plague the girls’ bathrooms of most schools. Aside from being the only girl in the group, she has another unique factor, Beth is right on the cusp of womanhood. Later her own fears are made manifest by Pennywise. She lives alone with her father and it is implied that he is sexually abusing her (this is less implied in the source material then how “on the chin” it is here) and has to face the path into womanhood largely on her own.
On screen, her own curiosity of herself and this woman she is becoming is very well rounded but at the same time not shoved in the viewer’s face. Without a woman figure in her life, the uncertainties she has are her own fears. Her anxiety over her menstrual cycle is quite literally part of her own horror (a daunting scene taking place in a bathroom further emphasizes this point) which honestly made Beth’s character robust and endearing. She also shows her own initiative and bravery when she often takes the lead and guides the group forward.
Bill’s story is very tightly woven in with the viewers. His fears and vulnerabilities are very much our own. Feeling the same loss, the same yearning for a glimpse of hope, clutching at threads hoping it leads to some closure on Georgie’s death, we feel in unison with Bill. The framework and narrative of the film are around Bill and the death of George. Deep down we have an ever fading hope to find George alive somewhere in that dark dank drain with his arm intact smiling as he did in the beginning. Bill feels this too.
The other kids have escalating run-ins with the monster Pennywise who morphs into the different fears of its victims. For instance, we see a sickly infected zombie for Eddie, a painting that Stan is scared of, and Beth is attacked by her own ignorance of her femininity and the abuse at her father’s hands.
Drawing particular attention to the midsection of the film, the momentum stagnates and becomes drab and boring. IT seems to start filling out a checklist of scares. A haunted house? Check. A zombie? Check. A clown? Check. Each character is attacked by Pennywise and these horrors are very lackluster in execution which has the viewer put their guard down.
As one scene opens, we are taken to Bill’s perspective which seems to set up perfectly for another simple jumpscare. Everything is in place, but melancholy suffocates the ambiance as Bill enters his basement still grieving and beaten from his adventures. He carefully descends the stairs as you wonder what’s next on the checklist of horror tropes? It turns out, the last few scares were just feints. This is where the true horror is. As Bill gets to the last step he sees a little yellow raincoat of Georgie; alive if not well. With his arm still missing, he wanders around the scenery as a child would, one foot in front of another. Sad and displaced, he speaks in his whimpering voice, “I wanna go home…., I miss mom and dad…” He seems scared, alone, and on the verge of tears, as if he was somewhere he really didn’t want to be, but it comes across much more sinister. Bill cannot believe his own eyes, It’s Georgie, alive and in front of him. Bill desperately wants Georgie back. We know it, Bill knows it and so does Pennywise…..
This is how he will torment Bill.
Pennywise parades the despondent Georgie around the basement in his raincoat. Puppeteering the child’s corpse only for it to decompose and scream at Bill “IT FLOATS!” before transforming back into Pennywise. This is where it sinks in, IT’s horror isn’t from jump scares or gore. It’s from a deep, core feeling of loss, of phantom pain, from that part of you that’s been stolen. The yearning for things to be different. To be reunited again for that feeling of all rounded love instead of the hole left in your heart. You feel it all.. the pain, the anger, the torment. Loss is the ultimate horror. The foundation of every horror film, book or tv show. From Harker’s loss of humanity, freedom, and sanity in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, to the loss of certainty and trust in John Carpenter’s The Thing. It is about the tragic, horrible loss of life and the loss of innocence.
Georgie is dead, and he’s never coming back.
The perpetrator and harbinger of loss is Pennywise (Bill Skaarsgard). He will get under your skin in the oddest ways, and the dynamics between Pennywise and the cast go from typical movie tropes to outright unnerving. Skaarsgard throws himself entirely into the role. How someone can get into the mindset of a primordial entity is anyone’s guess but he nails it at all the right points. From those close-ups of his face, with a smile from ear to ear, chattering away like a child and laughing, to unexpectedly going into a catatonic trance-like state, his eyes flick back into his head. Nothing is happening, nothing has changed, just a motionless, inexpressive face for a mere second before jumping right back to Pennywise. Bringing this to the character, along with a few other tricks here and there, make this IT scary in a whole new way from the original. Most of the character’s unsettling new look and appearance comes from the CGI used in the film. This is a credit to the team of artists who worked on IT. The C.G.I. is very well implemented. Imagery like the blood shed from Pennywise floating upwards instead of down, defying gravity and physics, further giving the creature an otherworldly almost Lovecraftian feel.
Pennywise has a constant presence in the film, from symbolism showing him lurking (like red balloons) to certain characters sharing quirks with the monster. This essence embellishes every scene with the discomforting feeling that Pennywise is everywhere and always watching.
For what IT lacks in genuine raw horror it makes up for with character relationships that are very believable. Swapping out the typical horror movie characters spectrum of emotions that mainly consist of unnerved terrified, screaming in horror, to a more believable and relatable feeling of anxiety, abandonment, sorrow, grief, self-loathing, etc. The horror itself mixes poetically with the undercurrent of a coming of age plot and imagery taking us back into the shoes of high schoolers. IT mixes drama and horror into its own metaphors for the fears felt by the students.
Unfortunately, IT suffers from its own fair share of recurrent problems. Half the cast is forgotten about a third of the way through the script and you are left wondering what the point was in giving them any screen time. The scares by means of atmospheric fear are very minimal, and when trying to incorporate classic horror, it falls flat on its face with some scenes even becoming laughable (I genuinely wondered if they were meant to be serious). By the time the movie ends and you see The End of Chapter 1, your own mind comes to the conclusion that a sequel was in mind from the beginning and that was holding it back in some regards.
IT always has been a two-part film book or mini-series there is no denying it, but if the love and care that was put into certain scenes that made this movie so beautifully disturbing, uncomfortable, and sad were put into every scene of the film IT would surpass everything that came before. Chapter 2 may be a very different ride through Derry and it will have a lot to live up to.
IT comes highly recommended, topping most of the best movies in recent years in my opinion, but as horror goes you may want to find your adrenaline buzz somewhere else.
Fool on the Hill:
I went to see IT as a fan of Stephen King’s novels, but not as a fan of the original IT series or movie. I thought the story did a fantastic job of capturing that “King” feel that presents itself in many of his novels. It isn’t pure horror, but more a coming-of-age, psychological and sci-fi extravaganza. This incarnation of King’s famous novel had a really wonderful cast, the perfect amount of heart-warming feelings, comedy, fear, and a good plot. The CGI didn’t over-saturate the visuals and the choice to set the story in the 80’s gave is a great feeling to appeal to fans of “The Goonies” or “Stranger Things”. I was scared out of my wits at times, but the movie definitely didn’t rely on jumpscares to try to weasel its way into the “horror” genre. I think it was one of the best horror films to hit theatres in the last few years. If you are at all a fan of the genre, definitely see this movie!