Strangely enough, 2017’s It, which follows a band of small-town Maine pre-teens as they fight a demonic, sewer-dwelling clown, is a fun film. While the premise alone is enough to turn some moviegoers off, if you are still on the fence, It provides a unique blend of horror, humor, and heart that is worth the price of admission.
One of the film’s greatest strengths is the likability of its characters. A collection of comically foul-mouthed outcasts, Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Liberher) and his friends infuse what is an inherently dark tale with a sense of levity and hope. In part, it is their immaturity that endears It’s protagonists to the audience — their incessant lewd yet well-timed jokes exhibit a naivete we can all see in our younger selves. But when faced with evil, the youngsters display a courage beyond their years that is also likely to make them fan favorites.
The film opens with a touching scene between older brother Bill and younger brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) before darkening as Georgie encounters Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård). Georgie is the latest child in Derry, Maine, to be snatched by Pennywise, but this kidnapping catalyzes Bill and his friends’ quest to find and defeat the clown. What the young adventurers realize, however, is that Pennywise’s reign of terror is far from over, and in pursuing the lost kids, Bill and co. will have to resist the clown’s power to manipulate their individual and collective fears.
While violent and disturbing at times, given that children are at the center of the action, It is neither a gross-out horror film nor a pure psychological thriller. Instead, It falls somewhere in the middle; and in classic Stephen King fashion, some non-supernatural characters turn out to be the film’s true monsters, such as town bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and Beverly Marsh’s abusive father (Stephen Bogaert). In contrast to the clown’s frightening yet otherworldly evil, the simple depravity of certain Derry residents is striking in its proximity to horrors observable in our world today.
That being said, Pennywise looms large, both in the film and in the minds of the young group opposing “it” (hence the film’s title). Controlled by an evil spirit, the Dancing Clown is everywhere, now peering from a TV screen, now hiding behind his iconic red balloon. While the clown’s seeming omnipresence is unsettling, greater screen time could have been devoted to Skarsgård speaking as Pennywise — which, when he did, was really creepy. Overall, though, Pennywise makes for a frighteningly versatile villain, and the film is a fun and multifaceted experience itself.