Believe the Hype – “It” is Terrific

"It" stands out where its genre often falters, bolstering horror with character-driven heart.

Source: Kyler Russell

It is as comical as it is horrifying. Bold and eager in its scares, this movie also embraces more lighthearted themes of friendship and courage. Director Andy Muschietti has created a coming-of-age story that masterfully couples supernatural scares with youthful nostalgia.

It follows a group of middle school misfits as they set out to rid their New England town from an age-old terror and learn much about themselves along the way. Get ready to float this weekend – It is the most enjoyable horror flick to hit the big screen in a long time.

The performances in this movie utilize its compelling script to produce a movie that manages to be both nightmarish and heartfelt. It follows the Losers Club, a group of social outcasts around Derry, Maine in 1988. Based on the novel by horror icon Stephen King, It’s use of diverse protagonists, each with their own idiosyncrasies and shortcomings, is at the heart of what makes this movie engaging and delightful. Muschietti takes his time introducing each kid, steepening our investment in them without trading plot development for backstory. Meanwhile, the film’s antagonist is Pennywise The Dancing Clown, a sewer-dwelling demon who takes the form of his victims’ worst fears. It wastes no time putting you on edge, yet Muschietti is measured in revealing the menacing clown, which makes for a gut-wrenching third act. Bill Skarsgård is superb as Pennywise, immersing himself in the clown’s malevolence and eccentricity. While his character’s identity and motives are brought to light in the second act, Skarsgård boasts ample ferocity for a hair-raising finale in which the themes of friendship and courage bolster the final showdown rather than undermine it.

Viewers can expect to jump and scream during It, but will also find themselves laughing until they cry. The Losers Club’s shenanigans and repartee make their journey engaging and amusing. Some of their backstories are heartbreaking – others cringeworthy. Each kid faces a core challenge they must overcome, and it is this array of character arcs – set in the unforgiving environment of middle school – that gives It the emotional payoff that sets it apart from the rest of its genre. Jaeden Lieberher plays Bill Denbrough, the chief Loser. Bill is bent on finding his younger brother George (played by Jackson Robert Scott), one of many Derry citizens to have recently gone missing. Finn Wolfhard’s Richie Tozier is easily the most raucous loser of the bunch. Coming off of his raving success with Netflix’s Stranger Things series, Wolfhard continues to captivate us with his wide-eyed, foul-mouthed youthfulness in It. Supporting Liberher’s lead, Richie’s bravado and wit are never in short supply. His foolhardy demeanor suffuses an intense loyalty to his friends, providing a depth of character that transcends simple comic relief.

Given Wolfhard’s role and the central conflict of kids encountering the supernatural, it’s hard not to compare It to Stranger Things. In fact, Matt and Ross Duffer created the Netflix series after being passed over for It in favor of a more established director. Both franchises hearken back to the 1980s and follow a group of outcasts facing persecution from sadistic bullies as well as ominous supernatural beings. However, the differences between these franchises are key. First off, It focuses on its characters’ biggest fears and less on the origin and identity of the supernatural. Stranger Things chronicles the protagonists’ search for the origin of the supernatural, while It posits that such demons are only manifestations of personal ones. It thus enjoys a slightly more intimate tone in its storytelling, showing us its characters’ personal lives and deepest struggles. These struggles that we witness early in the movie make the third act’s conflict enriching, as each character faces an evil to which he/she is intrinsically opposed.

Most of Muschietti’s few flaws with It come straight from his source material, Stephen King’s 1986 novel of the same title. For those who have seen the 1990 miniseries, the characters and dialogue are at times nearly identical between the two. This lulls those familiar with the story into passivity until the conflict heats up in the third act. Additionally, the school bullies – played by Owen Teague (Bloodline), Nicholas Hamilton, and Jake Sim – are predatory and sociopathic to the point where it’s distracting. The reality of bullying is undeniable, and its place in a story such as It is integral to the challenges that the protagonists face. However, the bullies’ use of switchblades, homemade flamethrowers, and guns in the movie is gratuitous. Muschietti can establish menacing characters in these roles without such overt threats of violence. Overdoing these threats alienates the viewer, because it’s impossible for most of us to resonate with such extreme behavior. Finally, Lieberher’s Bill is anemic and frail, especially in comparison to Wolfhard’s snide, indomitable Richie. While softer characteristics are central to Bill’s character arc, Lieberher fails to ingratiate us with this arc. We are instead presented with disparate traits of Bill throughout the story, as the more nobler ones slowly outnumber the feebler ones in what falls short of true character development. Fortunately, Liberher’s modest performance benefits from the rousing performances of the supporting losers. Each loser has both depth and realism to their story, and that is the essence of what immerses us in It.

Overall, I had a lot of fun watching It.  For those looking to get their fix of scares this weekend, It is easily the movie of choice. However, there are finer qualities about this movie that are impactful for a far wider audience. The depth and richness with which Muschietti tells these kids’ stories is captivating and unprecedented in the horror genre. For those craving a compelling story – horror fanatic or not, this movie is both heartfelt and pulse-pounding. I give It a 7/10 – the combination of horror and heart make It a visionary in the horror genre and a substantive tale of friendship and courage.

1 COMMENT

  1. Clearly the reviewer has not read the book. In the same way that Derry seems to ‘forget’ about child murders, the violence of the bullies is not gratuitous, but instead is a reflection of It’s effect on the community.

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