The first time I read Stephen King’s It I was 12 years old, which is basically the same age as the seven members of the self-proclaimed Losers Club.
As a chunky nerd who would much rather read a Stephen King book than run around on the playground, I connected to Ben Hanscom, the obese bookworm at the heart of It. Ben always inspired me because he took the pain and fear of being bullied, wore it like a suit of armor against the painted face of a maniacally laughing evil and didn’t blink.
The story is somewhat basic: Seven middle school kids fight the personification of pure evil in a small town that’s cannibalizing itself with its own worst impulses. 27 years later, after they have all drifted apart, the grown-ups must reunite to take on the darkness known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown before it destroys any more children.
A simple premise, yes, but a powerful one. When Stephen King’s novel It came out in 1986, it revolutionized horror by allowing it to be accepted into the mainstream. While there were other best-selling horror novels before It, the worldwide popularity of the massive doorstop of a book gave people permission to view the horror genre as something that could be page-turning as well as literary.
The television mini-series adaptation is remembered fondly because you were either a kid when you saw it for the first time or remember how great Tim Curry was as Pennywise. (Hot take: It hasn’t held up very well. Some of the performances are downright embarrassing and it’s not quite as scary as it was when we were kids — although Curry is still great.)
The new version of It isn’t very scary, either, but it’s a funhouse ride of thrills and chills all the same.
The constant explosion of creepy imagery and loud noises are so omnipresent that the film never builds up enough tension to become unnerving or even frightening. This is fine, since everything else works so perfectly from the cast to the tone and back around to the brilliant structural choice to only tell the story of the kids (leaving the chunk of the novel about the adults for the inevitable sequel in a few years).
It is so much fun and filled with such delightfully memorable grotesqueries that it doesn’t need to be a nightmare inducer to still be a great movie. If I had a 10-year-old, I would absolutely take them to see this. Not because I love scaring children, but because maybe they could find some of the courage these kids have to not only fight a monster, but to follow pure evil into its own lair. The Losers Club are all victims of very real bullies, leaving them with the universal truth that human monsters will always be scarier than clowns with shark teeth.
That’s not to say that Bill Skarsgård isn’t great as Pennywise, because he truly finds the rotten core of the demon. He never copies Curry for a second, creating something much more frightening with his vocal patterns and movement. We never believe that It is truly a clown, but instead something alien and unknowable that shuffles in the dark, whose motivations don’t go much deeper than wanting to salt the meat of children with their own fear and pain.
It has more going on than just being a spook-a-blast carnival attraction. It’s a coming-of-age story along the lines of Stand By Me, but mixed with the alienation of The Breakfast Club and the ‘80’s nostalgia factor of Stranger Things (which was itself an homage to It).
I’m now close to the age of the grown-up versions of the kids when they faced down Pennywise for the second time. I might not have gained the courage of Ben or the wisdom of Bill. Instead I inherited the frailty of Eddie mixed with the smart-assery of Richie, but I still have time to fight my own clowns. Beep-Beep everyone, the monsters are real. Don’t be afraid.