IT: a review

Let's get the facts clear up front, It is a scary movie. Based on the classic (and long) novel from the master of horror, Stephen King, It follows a group of junior high aged kids as they battle a murderous clown, nightmare fuel named Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

If you have coulrophobia, It is not a film you should watch. But for everyone else, It is easily my favorite film of 2017, and the best I've seen in a long time. Yes, It is terrifying at times, even the trailer was frightening. I've added it to my 'top five scariest movies ever' list. Yet underneath the creeping sense of dread, jump scares, and pervasive foreboding atmosphere is a truly great film.

It aspires to be bigger than a typical horror movie. Even with the tropes of a clever kids versus a monster plot line, It packs in a ton of depth, heart, and humor. It is a scary movie, but It is so much more.

This story succeeds because of the kids It follows. They are not the lifelong friends everybody wishes they had. These kids are underdogs and outcasts, bullied by older and bigger kids, abused by their parental figures, and mostly ignored by every other adult in their lives. They don't track down Pennywise because they're brave or have something to prove. They do it because no one else will.

And who else is better prepared to fend off evil in the form of an extradimensional psychopathic clown than a bunch of kids who are tormented by human evil on a daily basis.

If you don't want to know any details, you should stop reading now. Because there will be spoilers. You've been warned.
image courtesy of New Line Cinema and Warner Bros Pictures

The film follows Bill Denbrough and his three friends (collectively known as The Losers Club) in the summer of 1989. Bill has a stuttering problem which makes him a target for mean classmates. His little brother was Pennywise’s first victim and he feels guilty; Bill was sick and in bed the night Georgie was killed. The loss has strained his relationship with his family and his dad is hostile toward how Bill grieves.

Richie is scrawny, hyperactive, foul mouthed, afraid of clowns, wears oversized glasses, and is a neglected child looking for attention. His sarcastic attitude and vulgar insults often get him and the other boys into trouble. For most of the film, Richie is the comedic relief.

Stan is the germophobic Jewish kid preparing for his bat mitzvah. His father is a rabbi at the local synagogue and is highly critical of his Stan. He is the most reluctant member of The Losers Club, often giving reasons why they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing.

Eddie is the shortest and weakest of the kids. He is an accident prone hypochondriac afraid of anything that could injure him or cause sickness. He is fed a diet of various pills and placebos by his obese and emotionally abusive mother, who likely has Munchausen by proxy.

The four boys plan to spend their summer break searching for the body of Bill’s younger brother. Along the way, they befriend three other kids who are also harassed by the Bowers Gang, high school thugs led by Henry the son of an abusive cop. These new members of The Losers Club are Mike, the black kid who is homeschooled by his strict authoritarian grandfather after his parents died in a fire; Bev, the girl with a sexually abusive father and is teased as a slut from false rumors; and Ben, the bookworm who faces the cruelest and most violent bullying because of his weight.

One by one, and always when alone, each of the seven Losers are stalked or attacked by Pennywise as he manifests in the form of their greatest fears. A disfigured woman from a painting in Rabbi Uris’s office. Burning hands trying to escape through the butcher’s door. A leper stalking Eddie. A fountain of hair and blood exploding from Bev’s bathroom sink. And the image of Georgie reminds Bill that he could float too.

Daily life for these kids is hell. If the torture they suffer at the hands of bullies and parents weren’t enough, they live in a town that is either oblivious of their presence or bothered by their existence. The librarian is condescending of Ben. The pharmacist leers at Bev. The cops look the other way when the Bowers Gang harasses other kids. City leaders and law enforcement do little to find the murdered children, aside from posting missing signs and instituting a curfew. The Losers Club is trapped between the horrors of a clown trying to kill them, neglectful and abusive guardians, and a trio of bullies that have been given the freedom to do whatever they want. Their only way out is to fight the clown.

To defeat Pennywise, each of the kids must confront their fears. Richie gets trapped in a room full of clowns, Bev fights back against her father, Eddie throws away his pills and inhaler. Collectively, they stand up to the bullies. For a moment, Bill makes his way through a pep talk without stuttering. By the time the Losers confront It in the sewers, there is a moment of wish fulfillment for everyone in the audience who was abused, bullied, or mistreated as a kid. It symbolizes every real evil in our world. While the kids beat back the monster, they remind us that we are all capable of overcoming evil. Even if we are a stutterer, a loudmouth, a hypochondriac, a Jew, an African American, a fat kid, or a girl.

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