“It” tells the story of a group of kids in small-town Maine who are hunted by a terrifying psychopath. That psychopath is a bully named Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and he’s sadistic. He doesn’t roughhouse, he commits felony assaults. As if that weren’t bad enough, there’s an evil clown who feeds on fear called Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) on the loose. I think Bowers is a better villain, but of course the creepy clown with the sharp teeth and supernatural powers gets all the credit.
Unfortunate Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) is taken by Pennywise in the film’s opening sequence. His older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) feels guilty about it, but I’d feel a lot less guilty if I’d known he didn’t have the common sense to stay away from a clearly-sinister clown who hangs out in the sewers. Bill hangs out with a group of misfits called the Losers’ Club. Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) is a germaphobe who’s allergic to almost everything. Stan (Wyatt Oleff) is an underachieving rabbi’s son who’s creeped out by a painting in his dad’s office. Richie (Finn Wolfhard) is a smart-aleck who just wants to spend his time goofing around and saying one inappropriate thing after another. Mike (Chosen Jacobs) is a local farm hand who’s targeted by bullies because he’s “homeschooled” (but it’s pretty obvious that it’s because he’s black). Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is a bookworm who pines after Bev (Sophia Lillis). And Bev is a victim of salacious rumors around school and heavily-implied abuse at home.
This is a world where adults hardly exist because they’re all inattentive, dishonest, abusive, lustful, judgmental, or otherwise jerks. The upside of all the untrustworthiness is that the kids basically have run of this world. All of them have terrific chemistry and banter. I know there’s a horror movie to get to, but the movie is perfectly fine when the kids are just hanging out, riding bikes, swimming, and dodging bullies. They’re even great at swearing. I know on many levels it’s wrong to compliment kids swearing, but I can’t deny that they have great comedic timing with blue humor. The movie is based on a novel by Stephen King, and “Stand by Me” is pretty much the gold standard of profane kids movies, so I can’t say I’m surprised.
Speaking of Stephen King, I guess I need to get into the horror aspects. If you’re scared of clowns and teeth, then yeah, this movie is plenty scary. Personally, I understand where clowns can be creepy, but I don’t find them terrifying as long as their eyes are intact. As such, I find most of the Pennywise scenes to be silly rather than scary. I laughed my way all the way through the interaction with Georgie and later scenes where he haunts a slide projector and attacks Bev through a bathroom sink. These scenes, among others, are so over-the-top that I can’t take them seriously, but that doesn’t mean I don’t find them highly enjoyable. “It” – where the jokes are funny and the scares are funnier.
“It” loses steam in the final act where it starts taking itself seriously and the kids learn a profound lesson about conquering fear. Of course they’ve conquered their fears, Pennywise has already made them face their fears without killing them so they’ve already taken what he can dish out. But there’s still a lot unknown about how this world works. Why is Pennywise haunting this one town? How does he choose his victims and why is he so set on this particular group? Since he needs fear to survive, is it more productive to grab victims right away or toy with them for a while? Presumably we’ll find out more about Pennywise in an inevitable sequel, which I know we’ll get because the film promises one at the end. And because I know the book follows the characters into adulthood. And because the film made $117 million in its opening weekend and there’s no way Hollywood isn’t going to milk the property further.
“It” is rated R for violence/terror, bloody images, and for language. Its running time is 135 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.