Friendship and Paralyzing Terror: A look at IT (2017)

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Children are disappearing in Derry, Maine. One day playing in the rain, the next vanished without a trace, and none of the adults want to wonder why. It is in this tenor that seven kids, united by their horrific visions of a child-eating clown, come together to fight back against this strange “IT”. Andy Muschietti’s IT (2017) brings together  various elements of terror and plot to craft a story about the trauma of childhood. Though the film is riddled with metaphors referencing both abuse and molestation, its ultimate message is one of community.

Based on Stephen King’s notorious novel of the same name, and a remake of the 1990 made-for-TV film, IT has quite the reputation to live up to. Though immersed with references and themes of its predecessors, the film does not purely seek to imitate, rendering comparisons irrelevant to a proper analysis.

What IT gives us is a cast of wholly lovable characters with visible connections and backstories. If Bill Skarsgard’s portrayal of Pennywise the Dancing Clown is lacking, the ragtag team of kids that drive the film makes up for it tenfold. Self-titled the “Loser’s Club”, they consist of a child who stutters, a hypochondriac, an abused poor girl, the “fat” kid, a black homeschooler, a nervous Jewish boy, and a joker with no filter. A common theme of the movie is the complete indifference of the town’s adults, which is alluded to as being a product of Pennywise’s historical influence. As a result of this laxity, the kids find they only have each other to lean on in dealing with this evil, supernatural clown. Adults can’t see IT, and they certainly don’t care much about what IT does. And so, the Loser’s Club find themselves the sole heroes of the narrative, understanding that only together can they defeat this evil .

The beautiful message of love and friends being the strongest power of all is countered with darker  themes of abuse and pedophilia. IT takes the shape of a clown, a character that frequents child parties and seems to wear a mask of constant, yet deceitful, happiness. There is an intentionality to this that is underlined, as IT only targets children who then cry out for help to blissfully ignorant adults. The trauma the Loser’s Club suffers is a trauma representative of many aspects of childhood, some greater and more terrible than most have encountered. The film does an excellent job of conveying this, IT transforming into what each of the characters’ fear most in order to psychologically torture them to the fullest degree.

While the clear protagonists of the movie strikingly portrayed their individual stories and arcs, the antagonist was almost plain. The infamous character of Pennywise is a large task to take on, for sure, but even without IT’s legendary status, Skarsgard’s performance seems to fall short. A near excess of special effects and the exaggerated concept of the “scary clown” dulled the terrifying aspects of Pennywise. The grotesque forms IT takes throughout the film were far more frightening than any moment of Skarsgard’s performance. Whether this is a directing error or a character building one, the movie’s promises of the classic clown of terror fall short.

Heavy themes, hilarious dialogue, and horrifying imagery are what tie together the loose ends of IT. Whether you live and breathe the horror genre or abhor it, IT is worth a trip to the movies. The film does deliver a worthy horror performance, yet the larger narrative and captivating characters are what drive IT’s appeal. It’s a tale of friendship just as much, if not more, than a tale of terror. The movie displays to its audience a powerful message, that even in the most dreadful of circumstances, loyal, solid friends are all you need. Especially if you’re fighting an evil clown.


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