Finally the horror I’ve been waiting for! I had high expectations for IT, and let me tell you it did not disappoint.
[Authors note: nothing will give you an existential crisis in grammar than trying to use it, IT and It interchangeably, be prepared to read this and have your mind melt. Also, it’s another long one folks, so buckle up and be ready to read.]
There is a recent trend throughout 21st century in the horror genre, and that is jump scares. Gone are the days of classic horrors like The Exorcist. Now, quite frankly, any half hearted low budget film can call itself a horror these days if they throw in enough jump scares in and add some plot about a supernatural entity; the result is that pretty much every film is the same for it. Andy Muschietti’s IT, based actually impressively closely to the novel by Stephen King, is a refreshing change from this outdone trend. The film is actually scary for its subject matter rather than for making you have a heart attack. It is also a huge improvement on the 1990 TV miniseries for anyone wondering.
IT is set in the small town of Derry, Maine where we see a group of young misfits -known as The Losers Club– who all come to the realisation that they have all had a terrifying encounter with a shape-shifting clown. They start to piece together that this is not the first time the clown known as Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), has appeared. In fact the creepy comic appears every 27 years or so to feast on Derry’s youth. Thus the group reluctantly decide to end It once and for all by facing It head on. To make matters worse, the gang are under the relentless pursuit by their school bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), who as we see is more of a psychopath than a misguided boy. That is to say that every scene within IT is suspenseful and full of violence, and more often than not it is the latter of the two perpetrators who is at fault.
There is an abundance of young talent showcased throughout IT. The standouts from The Losers Club itself is not the group’s unofficial leader Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) – though he does do a superb job of nailing a stutter that is not too overdone- or even the lone female of the group Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis). Instead it is hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer)and comic Richie (Finn Wolfhard) who really stole the show. The infighting between the two is hilarious to watch with Eddie terrified of literally everything and Richie mocking this and coming out with one-liners that are so typical of a 13 year old boy but still have you in stitches. Wolfhard is known for starring as Mike in the popular Netflix series Stranger Things. It is therefore through IT that we see how versatile an actor he is at such a young age. Both he and Grazer have a bright future ahead of them. One more youngster that should be addressed is Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott), Bill’s brother who is killed by It in the film’s opening sequence. For such a young age, he does an outstanding job of switching between innocent young Georgie and sinister It within seconds, he is honestly one of the most talented actors in the entire cast. My least favourite of the Loser Club was by far Stanley (Wyatt Oleff). This has nothing to do with Oleff’s acting ability. I mean the character. He is, quite frankly, a coward. After the group decides to enter the Neibolt House to confront It, he chickens out and asks if they need someone to stand guard. It is interesting, as with a large theme being Coming of Age (Stanley with his Bar mitzvah, Beverly with tampons, Mike ‘taking responsibility’ and killing the sheep, and Eddie standing up to his overbearing mother), Stanley is the only member to have a official ceremony for his, yet of all the characters he is the least grown up and still a coward. I suppose this is how his character is supposed to be portrayed, as you shall see from the second half of the story soon to come.
In truth, there should have been more character development for Mike (Chosen Jacobs). He is introduced at the beginning of the film and yet is not properly involved until half way through, by which time it is too late to develop his character properly. As a result, in the scene between him and Henry near the film’s climax, despite his character’s life being at stake it is hard to feel emotionally connected, as opposed to how we would feel if say it were Bill or even Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) in that situation. Likewise, there was so much potential to showcase the struggles his character faces because of his race. Mike is African-American, and in King’s novel Henry’s attacks towards Mike are racially motivated. This is indeed slightly touched upon when the group of bullies shout a derogatory phrase when they drive by Mike in their car. But other than this, there is no more mention of the racial abuse he faces. Understandably, it is hard to fit everything from a novel into a two hour film slot and things have to be sacrificed. It just seems a shame that the potential was there but was sidelined along with Mike’s character development as a whole. But who knows with a sequel/ Chapter Two in the works, he may be explored more through this instead.
Now to discuss the titular character. To start off with, Bill Skarsgård is absolutely phenomenal in this role. He is unrecognisable and creepy as hell! Despite his aesthetic driving coulrophobes to hysterics, it is the little details that add to the overall unsettling nature of the character. For example, when he is talking to Georgie, you can see him slobbering as he speaks at the thought of his next meal. Compared to Tim Curry’s version of the character, I think Skarsgård takes the cake. Curry comes across as a middle aged man dressed as a clown with a raspy monotonous voice to go with, rather than some mysterious entity masquerading as a clown. Whereas with Skarsgård, there is something otherworldly and nefarious. His voice seems to alternate octaves when he speaks, and in the storm drain scene with Georgie, he talks to himself to in third person as if Pennywise is actually another person there. After introducing himself as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, he looks slightly down and talks to himself saying “Pennywise?” “Yes?” “Meet Georgie” “Georgie meet Pennywise” as if he is the middle man between the two people. This line completely unsettled me. After his spectacular performance, it would not surprise me if we see a lot more of Bill Skarsgård in the future.
My only problem with the character of It in this rendition, is It’s back story. We find out that It has been around for a long, long time (even since the signing of the charter for Derry) resurfacing again every 27 years or so and proceeding to feast on the young of the town. But even then this information is only given to us in a few quick scenes. But we have no idea of the clown’s origins or why It does what It does (something that is explored in the novel). Muschietti’s decision to scrap the Macroverse plot of the novel (a nod to which is included through the toy turtle and turtle in the quarry symbolising Maturin) cost the plot the canon origin story of It, but they neglect to replace it with a new one. It seems to me that the film spends too much time establishing what It can do in terms of manifesting as people’s greatest fears, and not enough time establishing what It actually is. But perhaps again this will be explored in the sequel.
Another question that plagued me whilst watching the film is how there is a cart with ‘Pennywise the Dancing Clown’ in a picture of what I assume is a festival/Carnival that had occurred in Derry some time ago. Does this mean that Pennywise was an actual person who It took the form of? It just seems completely un-It like to go public with its presence in order to lure children, never mind doing so in a crowded carnival. In which case, is the Pennywise eluded to in that photo It or not? Likewise, the adults in the film seem to be unaffected by It’s presence and we know It does not target them. Yet, Ben says that ‘people die or disappear, six times the national average. And that’s just grown-ups. Kids are worse. Way, way worse.’ In which case, who or what is after the adults then?!
Despite It being the main antagonist throughout, it is actually the humans in the movie that commit some of the worst atrocities. Henry Bowers is one of the worst offenders. He is a psychopath. He tries to kill a cat, attempts to carve his name into Ben’s stomach (something that even his fellow bullies call him out for as too harsh), spreads vicious rumours about Bev, bullies people in general (even his fellow bullies), and lastly kills his father and attempts to kill Mike too. The adults of the town are just as bad. Henry’s father (Stuart Hughes) is mentally abusive and an alcoholic, whilst Bev’s dad (Stephen Bogaert) is heavily implied to be sexually assaulting her. Eddie’s mum (Molly Atkinson) is obviously abusing her child through Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy (MSBP). Meanwhile, adults not directly related to the Losers are equally as shameful, such as the couple in the car who chose to ignore Henry’s carving up Ben’s stomach as they drive by (again it is not really answered why there is a red balloon in the car –symbolising It- perhaps again this will be answered in the next instalment when the characters are adults themselves). What this symbolises is that although It carries out unspeakable atrocities throughout the film; humans do the exact same if not worse. Which begs the question, how different is It from humanity really?
IT is quite frankly a breath of fresh air in the horror genre. It is scary for the story it tells rather than naff jump scares. Bill Skarsgård does an outstanding job of portraying the titular It and adds a whole new layer of creepy that was missing from the TV miniseries. What makes IT even worse is the fact that It is not the only monster in the film, the bullies and adults are equally to blame. With an abundance of fresh faced talent and amazing cinematography (even if the CGI is perhaps a bit over the top in some places…*cough cough* the leper) IT is a must see for anyone over 18 and with Chapter Two in the works, you best get to the cinemas soon.
The moral of the story is just don’t go to any sewer systems in the near future…no one wants to find out if you’ll float too!