By Dae Thomas
With the recent adaptational flop of Netflix’s “Death Note” still looming over our heads, I walked into my first screening of “It” rather skeptical.
I couldn’t imagine Hollywood being able to put together something that wasn’t all jump scares and horror tropes that have been used more times in the horror genre than the days are long, much less tell an emotionally investing story relevant to this day and age.
Plus, “It” had already been adapted for screen in the 1990’s as a two-part miniseries and birthed the iconic Tim Curry iteration of Pennywise that we’re so used to seeing pop up in our minds as an example of a quintessential killer clown. What more could Hollywood possibly aim to do with the source material? The idea of another failed retelling of the story alone is itself pretty scary and looming, and I haven’t even mentioned the clown yet.
It sounds fine in theory, but more often than not, it’s just a blatant cash grab by studios. It’s a lazy strategy to bank on successes of the past by eliciting enough nostalgia to get us to actually see the third reboot of “Spider Man” or the sixth “Transformers” or eighth “Texas: Chainsaw Massacre” remake.
Hollywood couldn’t possibly want more than to create a flimsy horror flick intended to only make extra money from the October horror crowd, right? Wrong. And I couldn’t be more happy to admit it.
Luckily, in the case of “It”, the subject material was so meticulously and lovingly handled, that what culminated was something akin to a splice between “The Goonies” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” Two things I did not know that I needed metaphorically crossed-over until this film gave it to me.
The screenplay writers knowingly snuck a moving coming of age story into a film that everyone was just expecting to be about a scary, homicidal clown. Very similar to how I snuck in snacks to the theatre when watching “It” my first viewing. Also my second and third viewings as well, if we’re being totally honest.
Also, it’s satisfyingly scary. Horror movie buffs rejoice. It’s just in time for the beginning of Halloween season, too. The soundtrack emits an atmosphere from the very beginning that emits unease, when it’s not playing some pretty solid 80’s bangers.
The visuals and scare sequences are phenomenal and will no doubt hold up for repeat viewings not only in theatres, but online streaming as well. The first death on-screen is absolutely brutal and equally heartbreaking, both as a concept as well as the execution.
I think we’ve even got a right of passage horror movie that millennials will use at sleepovers for generations to come as the quintessential scary movie of the 2010s. The Conjuring films and The Babadook are shook.
To start with, half of the backbone of the film is undoubtedly The Losers Club. A band of middle-school social misfits that came together originally in the 1986 horror novel written by Stephen King to stand up to Pennywise.
The group consists of seven members between the ages of 13 and 14 who are all bullied-school outcasts, whose personal traumas extend well into to their home lives. If you went to public school in America it’s very likely that one of the members of The Losers Club will resonate with you.
Three of the most important characters to the plot are Eddie the hypochondriac mama’s boy, Richie the silver-tongued deliverer of the majority of the group’s burns and Billie, the unspoken leader of the group whose brother Georgie has a keen connection to Pennywise. (No spoilers for those who haven’t read the book or seen the miniseries – but hint: You’ll float, too).
I know much of my middle-school experience rung true while watching, mostly due to the emotional chemistry the cast is able to produce on-screen together.
Beverly Marsh (played by up and coming Sophia Lillis) by far has the most unfortunate and cringe-inducing interactions with the adults in her life. There is a scene involving a creepy pharmacist that my theater audibly groaned at in unison, in every single one of my viewings (you’ll know it when you see it). Not that of the other adults in the film don’t vie for the title.
The adults in the fictional Maine town of Derry are downright unhelpful, at best. They’re controlling and demented at their worst. Each and every one of them is profoundly unsettling to watch interact with our band of misfits, a Stephen King-ism that is certainly carried over from his larger body of work.
The film though is surprisingly (but refreshingly) really funny. The Losers Club swear like sailors and let sexual innuendos fly left and right, because let’s face it, that’s how all of us were at that age too.
And that’s why they’re so damn relatable. “I need my bifocals! They’re in my second fanny pack!,” may very well be my favorite line of the entire film. Not that there aren’t other honorable mentions like: “These are gazebos! They’re b——-!”
Now to the pièce de résistance: Pennywise the Dancing Clown.
Bill Skarsgård’s casting as Pennywise, when it was originally announced, was really quite controversial, seeing as he had the Tim Curry portrayal to go up against and was one of the lesser known entities of the famous Swedes-gone-Hollywood family known as the Skarsgårds.
The trailer for the film however, absolutely broke the internet upon its release on May 9th, 2017. The social media campaign was very effective and engaging in reintroducing the clown to a new generation of moviegoers and even seemed to spark one of the stranger 2016 phenomena (besides the election); clowns seen casually walking around woods and unsuspecting neighborhoods in the dead of night.
Whether it was brilliant marketing, or just strange events timed suspiciously close to the release of the promotional content for “IT”, the campaign went viral. The memes reached even the darkest places of Tumblr and the internet in the months leading up to the theatrical release.
I can’t divulge too much about the clown in an attempt to avoid encroaching on spoilers, but rest assured that Skarsgård’s version of our favorite murderous resident clown is exquisite.
I can also say that you should pay attention to even the most minute details in Skarsgård’s portrayal of Pennywise. He doesn’t wipe away at the water profusely dripping from his mouth while talking to poor Georgie, amid a very heavy rainstorm (the infamous sewer scene).
His English is … strained. Grammatically, sure, it’s not bad or even out of date given “It” is a clown who has terrorized the same town since the 1700s, but he puts emphasis on the wrong words when formulating sentences. His body language is “off,” even for a clown. He contorts all his limbs and moves in ways not humanly possible.
Skarsgård’s appearances on screen as It are entirely unsettling and unnatural, but he somehow finds a certain, dare I say, charisma in the role that does the source material glorious justice. Stephen King fans and fans of the horror genre in general should be proud.
Make no mistake, there is some especially sinister and supernatural quality about Pennywise that will stick with you well after the movie ends, and likely long after you shut off your bedroom lights at night.
But that won’t be the only thing.
You’ll also leave shockingly content as you reminisce about The Losers Club’s time together in the film. And that’s the weirdest sentence anyone could write about a film whose given source material is about a homicidal, supernatural clown named Pennywise that terrorizes a fictional town named Derry.