Written by: Mathew ‘JJ’ Simoes
The latest adaption of Stephen King’s novel It has arrived, and the film was truly terrifying and in keeping with the spirit of the novel. One thing of note, when I refer to the film’s antagonist I will alternate between Pennywise and It.
It tells the story of Derry, a small town in America which is terrorized by an other-worldly entity referred to by the main protagonists as ‘It’. Usually taking the form of Pennywise the dancing clown, It seeks to induce fear in the town’s children so it can consume them. A group of teenagers discover It’s presence in their lives and seek to end Pennywise’s reign of terror in their town.
It is a coming of age film tinged with the unspeakable horror of being a defenseless child, and this is evident in the film’s first scene. A pleasant scene of Bill building a paper boat with his brother George end with a gruesome murder at the hands of Pennywise. The film perfectly balances the personal lives of the main protagonists with scenes of absolute terror, and these are often blurred. Some of the characters’ have home lives rival It in the terror that they can induce, with Beverly’s relationship with her father being a good example of this. Henry, the local bully, also comes from a bad home life that turned him into a little psychopath. He’s probably the worst part of this film, as his character isn’t developed enough to justifiy some of his more extreme actions.
While the film may be terrifying, it’s also incredibly funny. The children in this film talk and act like children, bringing things into conversation they don’t quite understand and making great 80’s pop culture references. They also constantly tease each other, leading to lighter moment that allow the film to take a break from the dark, supernatural elements. Now while the children added a good amount of humour to the film, the same jokes were used far to often. This led to about a quarter of the film’s humour missing the mark. These lighter moments also make the appearance of Pennywise more fear inducing, as his presence always feels like a break from reality.
What could have been a weaker part of the film is the pattern of each child confronting It and their worst fears. This could have gotten stale after the first couple of interactions, but the film keeps each one fresh. It overcomes the potential staleness of this structure by making each of the encounters frightening, visually interesting and important to each characters’ personal arc.
The themes present in the film are the loss of innocence and survival. Both the children and It just want to survive the other, each doing whatever it takes to stay alive. It isn’t presented so much as evil, but instead as a creature actingg according to it’s nature. This adds an interesting dimension to the demon, and makes the character more complex. This film has every character lose their childhood to It’s terror, and even though they’ve managed to stop the creature for a time, they have not gone unscathed.
Pennywise was never the focus of the film, but served a more metaphorical role. This was a good decision as much of the film focused on the Losers Club as they each are forced to grow up. Pennywise is more a manifestation of their fears than he is a real character, as no information is given as to Pennywise’ origins. Instead the viewer sees Pennywise as the children do, an example of the darker, grown up world that’s creeping into their childhood. Bill Skargard’s portrayal of Pennywise was haunting and is sure to become the thing of nightmares for any young person that watches this film. Skarsgard perfectly captures the playful nature of It as it tries to induce fear in it’s prey, making this antagonist all the more frightening. There’s just something oddly adorable about the murderous clown that makes one feel more unsettled on top of all the child murder It commits.
The child actors in this film were great, either as a source of drama or comic relief. While not all of them serve as the center of the film, they each feel essential to the film as they each have an intricate role in the plot. The central protagonists of the film are Bill, Beverly and Ben. They have the most compelling character arcs in It and lead the charge against Pennywise. Sophia Lillis is the standout performance in It, as she portrays her character’s identity struggles and inner pain with the right amount of nuance. The group dynamic is great, with each of the Losers playing well off each other, making the bonds they develop in the film feel all the more real.
The film’s 80’s setting leads to quite a bit of nostalgia for the decade, but it never takes center stage in the film. Rather it adds to the the small town and tranquil vibe of Derry that’s all really a facade for It’s hunting ground.
The film’s ability to induce fear is aided by excellent sound design, which creates the dark and claustrophobic atmosphere that It likes to create for Derry’s children. The film relies on this much of the time to set up the film’s cares, which is a nice break from the sudden jump scares that have become all too popular. That being said they are present in this film, but to a lesser extent.
It, as shown at the end of the film, is merely the first chapter of the story as a sequel will adapt the last half of King’s novel. However the film has a very conclusive ending and stands on it’s own well, never feeling like it’s the first half of a larger story. While the ending feels a little anti-climactic after spending much of the film seeingn how powerful Pennywise is, it fits thematically which helps the film stick the landing. A sequel to this film could never be made, and I think viewers would still be satisfied with It’s conclusion.
Overall this film was a frightening metaphor for the loss of childhood innocence teeming with lighter moments to show what the protagonists are fighting for.
Mathew’s Score – 8.5/10
Nick’s Score – 8.5/10
Artur’s Score – 8/10
What did you think of IT? Leave your thoughts and fears in the comments.