FYI I’m only basing my thoughts on the most recent film. I have seen the 1990 miniseries but don’t remember much at all. I also haven’t read the novel. Potential spoilers ahead.
It is plenty scary and joins the ranks of well-made horror movies. Such qualities can be seen in horror movies like It Follows (don’t you like random people stalking you that no one else can see?) and The Shining (come play with us…) play on mystery and our deep fears of uncertainty and require disturbing and grotesque imagery. They also go a little deeper into other disturbing sub-themes. Thankfully, 2017’s It, the second adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, is a decent horror film that utilises these kinds of narratives devices effectively to scare the living daylights out of you.
It takes place in the town of Derry where kids go missing and the adults appear disinterested or under a spell of wilful ignorance of some sort. We are introduced to a small group of friends called ‘The Loser’s Club’, lead by de facto leader Bill, whose younger brother, Georgie, is taken by the evil clown in the opening moments of the film. The kids are each tormented by this disturbing clown, Pennywise, as he inhabits their fears in order to eat them until they decide to fight back.
It comes at the perfect time where Stranger Things fever is still in the air (one of the kids from ST is in this too) and it is full of 80s nostalgia (the local cinema is screening Batman and Lethal Weapon 2). Thankfully this doesn’t feel forced and suits the film’s atmosphere, and is used for playful purposes at various moments in the film. It is also incredibly violent yet the violence never feels gratuitous, but reinforces the horror and helplessness of the situation. Georgie’s death was disturbing in how far it gruesomely portrayed an innocent situation of a runaway paper boat to a violent confrontation with a strange clown in a drain. The cinema I was in had a collective gasp in how violent his death was portrayed. It had to be similar to the way the opening scene of Jaws felt for those viewing it for the first time – a deeply unnerving and malefic force.
Pennywise is absolutely terrifying. Bill Skarsgard does an excellent job with mannerisms that make Pennywise a completely unpredictable and malevolent force of evil. Some of the manifestations of fear that he inhabits are more effective than others, but he never feels like a cliche horror movie villain from the likes of Freddy or Jason. The kids are also quite good in their roles and are each given enough time to be fleshed out in some way.
My only gripe would be that It feels a little long at times. The first half-hour of the films dragged as things were coming together. Perhaps I also had expectations that I’d feel a bond with The Loser’s Club in the same way that I’d felt with the kids from Stranger Things, or the King adaptation, Stand by Me. The way these sorts of groups come together against their antagonists in other 80s-based (or earlier) coming-of-age films is comical or a little more light-hearted. It, relies instead on existential dread. Fear of being in the midst of puberty in a world where even grown ups are committing evil against you (It’s most disturbing non-Pennywise scenes are scenes involving the kid’s parents). The Loser’s Club have each other, but without the warmth that similar films have. This is perhaps part of what wore me out with this film – It is a dire film without much hope, and that is indeed horrifying. It does say something about facing our fears and overcoming them, but I’m not sure what that is until part 2 comes out to resolve the story.
What I enjoyed from It was how it was as a cinematic experience. It was the first time in a while that I’d been in a cinema that was packed out and felt that the audience was ‘in this together’. I saw the intense war film Dunkirk a few months back with a packed cinema but didn’t have the same kind of experience. Or maybe it was the Italian couple next to me constantly commenting on the film.
So go on, join a bunch of strangers for a scare and don’t talk during the movie.
It is plenty scary.