Unfortunately, too many good, horrifying ideas for films are wasted due to an emphasis on scaring the audience, rather than creating a well put together film. Based on the 1986 novel of the same name, the newly released IT movie horrifies and makes the audience crave more.
The story is set in Derry, Maine (a made-up town), where every 27 years, a dark force known as “IT” resurfaces to feed on the bodies and fears of children. Our protagonists, the wrongly named “Loser’s Club”, must face off against this force (who usually takes the “form” of Pennywise The Dancing Clown). Seems like your average horror film, right? No, it is not.
For starters, the raw talent that the younger actors have is captivating;As members of the Loser’s Club, they appear to be genuinely horrified. Finn Wolfhard, who plays Richie Tozier, Jaeden Lieberher as Bill Denbrough, Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben Hanscombe, Sophia Lillis as Beverley Marsh, Wyatt Oleff as Stan Uris, Chosen Jacobs as Mike Hanlon, and Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie Kaspbrak all create an ensemble that works masterfully. Expanding and developing all of these characters was no easy feat for veteran director Andrés Muschietti, however,by displaying the fears of the members of the Loser Club, audiences feel the frightened emotions of the children, creating complex characters, unusual for a film of this genre. Although Pennywise is simply IT’s favorite “form”, it can become whatever its victim fears. By exploiting these characters’ fears, depth and a character arc begin to develop. For example, one character (trying not to spoil anything) is a hypochondriac who fears anything that can make him sick,so IT attempts to scare him by posing as a leper (a person suffering from leprosy). By preying on his/her fears, the writers created a character who is now more of a person, with relatable issues to overcome, and his/her arc (again, no spoilers, so no gender!) is in turn more interesting. The theme of overcoming fear is perhaps where all the character development lies in this film, but nonetheless, exploring one’s fears- and subsequently how one overcomes those fears- conveys a lot about a character.
Bullying is also a major theme in this movie. The bullies are not your typical, socially excluding, verbal bullies, rather, these bullies literally mutilate members of the Loser’s Club. At times,it is hard to watch, however it adds to the film, for it creates very human good guys, while also having very human bad guys. Pennywise is of course the scariest “villain”, but the bullies add a layer to the Loser’s Club, for their struggle against bullies and Pennywise mirror one another. Furthermore, the addition of bullies allows for more emotional growth for our protagonists. Many horror films fall short because they lack emotionally compelling characters, but through bullies, the audience truly feels bad for the “Losers”. Relatability is also an important factor in the film success. Literally anyone who watches this film can see themselves in at least one member of the Loser’s Club. Whether you see your parent in one of the “loser” parents, or you too are a hypochondriac, there is a “loser” for you.
Early on, the producers, director, and actors confirmed that the movie would be rated R. Dan Lin, one of the producers for IT says “It is a rated-R movie. If you’re going to make a ‘Rated-R movie’, you have to fully embrace what it is, and you have to embrace the source material. It is a scary clown that’s trying to kill kids. So of course that’s going to be a rated-R movie”. Well, the producers and director definitely “embraced” the R rating. This film is gory, and usually the kids are the ones bleeding/dying; this makes the gore even harder to watch, for who wants to see kids get hurt? Especially well developed characters the audience has formed a “relationship” with. The emotional ride does not end there. Muschietti adds to the “fear factor” by opting to show scenes of kids losing limbs, bleeding profusely, and of course, dying. The gore may not be tolerable for some (especially a younger audience) but then again, the film is rated R, hence, people should have somewhat of an idea for what they’re in for. In the end, the gore makes the movie better, for it feels more realistic. This allows the audience to truly feel apart of the movie, and it makes the audience more fearful for their favorite characters.
Pennywise is of course a highlight of the film, and all that applause can be attributed to Bill Skarsgard. Skarsgard is most notable for his role in Allegiant, one of the movies in the Divergent trilogy. When Skarsgard was cast for the role, there was an uproar from fans, for he is semi-unknown to the majority of moviegoers, however, after watching the film, the casting directors deserve as much praise as the director, the writers, and the actors. Skarsgard is exceptionally horryfing; his voice, mannerisms, and demonic demeanor represent the audience’s mental picture of Pennywise perfectly. His presence on screen truly makes the audience scared and creeped out. Tim Curry’s portrayal of the character in the original miniseries was slightly more humorous, whereas Skarsgard goes right in for the scare, leaving no room for humor. This makes Skarsgard’s portrayal all the better, for he is supposed to be a child eating clown, not a funny, joyful clown. It is obvious that the directorial team on the original miniseries was attempting to make his humor “creepy” but it fell short at times. This directorial team made a smart decision by dropping all the humorous gimmicks from the original miniseries.
There are some pacing issues earlier on in the film, and scenes seem to jump from one to another in a repetitive fashion. There is a 15 minute span where each child is experiencing their first encounter with Pennywise. It is slightly irritating for the audience, as what is to come is predictable, but it is a relatively short period, and the rest of the film makes up for it. There are ways the writers and director could have changed this formula in the beginning, but I suppose they are important elements that must be hit; they could have interspersed these scenes throughout the story but that arguably could have lead to even more pacing issues.
IT is a must see; compared to other horror movies, it stands out for having intriguing characters and interceding realism in an unrealistic scenario. Furthermore, the film makes you care about its characters; they aren’t just people being chased by a clown, they are complex people with fears, aspirations, family issues. For these reasons, I am giving IT 4 Wildcats; the reason it didn’t get a full 5 Wildcats is due to mainly pacing issues in the beginning, but this takes little to nothing away from the movie, for in the end, you have yourself a masterfully crafted horror and in some ways, dramatic movie.
IT: 4 out of 5 Wildcats