Seven young outcasts in Derry, Maine, are about to face their worst nightmare — an ancient, shape-shifting evil that emerges from the sewer every 27 years to prey on the town’s children. Banding together over the course of one horrifying summer, the friends must overcome their own personal fears to battle the murderous, bloodthirsty clown known as Pennywise.
It is a 2017 supernatural horror film directed by Andy Muschietti, adapting the well-known Stephen King novel of the same name. While It could be an intimidating tome to even an avid reader, the book was also adapted back in 1990 into a miniseries starring Tim Curry as the titular creature, which cemented the story further into popular culture. The 2017 film is the first time I’ve actually experienced any version of the story for myself, yet going in I had a firm understanding of it through osmosis. It’s a tale that’s hung around the periphery of my life ever since I noticed the massive hardcover on my dad’s bookshelf when I was a child.
Though the novel shifts perspective between the characters’ adulthood and childhood, this film focuses solely on the group’s experiences as children, in this version set in the year 1989. I was pleased to find that a film dominated by a cast of pre-adolescent actors had such solid, even strong, performances throughout. I was particularly fond of Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Eddie (Jack Dylan Glazer), and Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) for the way they were written and performed, though I enjoyed all of the characters in their own ways. They’re a resilient group of kids, while still coming across as very vulnerable, whether from the bullying of their peers or Pennywise itself. Some of the best parts of the movie are when they’re just being kids together, trying to enjoy their summer despite the terror lurking beneath them. They’re realistically raw and even vulgar, as one would expect from unsupervised preteens, which I liked. It felt in keeping with the way King writes his characters and dialogue.
I liked the presentation and characterization of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) itself a lot. It’s an eldritch, unknowable being, yet there’s a clear personality to it. It’s relentlessly threatening, but also silly in a creepy way that doesn’t diminish this. It’s more than just a monster, it’s an adversary. I’ve actually found myself at odds with some other critics, who I’ve noticed criticize its tendency to allow the kids to escape. As I saw it, there was a prominent cat-and-mouse quality to the way Pennywise pursued them that justified this behaviour. I couple this with the fact that it is an entity that thrives from instilling fear in its victims. What better way to saturate your victim with this feeling than terrorizing them over a longer period. The movie is a little jump-scare heavy, another criticism I’ve heard, and while I bemoan its overuse in other cases, I found it worked here as a knock-on effect for the audience. It never succeeded in making me scared, but I did find it thrilling.
That’s the main criticism I have for this film. I didn’t feel consistently creeped out, scared, or a sense of dread. There are only a couple of instances where things really got effectively horrific for me, and one case where one of the kids — Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) — had a fear manifest that really struck a cord with me. It’s a weird situation where I enjoyed what I was seeing as Horror content, but most of the time was not scared by it, which would have only made the film all the better. My hope is that a sense of dread can come into it for chapter 2 — a non-surprise that is alluded to as the credits begin to roll. While I buy into the jump-scare tactics used to terrorize children, I hope there is more to the way Pennywise antagonizes them as adults. Whenever I try to imagine one of the encounters with it in this film, swapping one of the kids for an adult, it doesn’t really work for me.
All that being said, I still think It is a very good film and I recommend it to anyone with an interest in horror movies. From what I understand it deviates in a number of ways from the novel, but it still tells a satisfying story about children coming to grips with their fears and confronting an unknowable horror. They’re an archetypical group, but written in a way that works for the story being told. The film did not personally scare me much, but I suspect that will not be the case for a lot of other people, which should be considered as well. At the end of the day, I’m just happy to see a good horror movie doing as well as it is.