Bill Skarsgård and a bunch of kids in It

Sarah Posted by Sarah at September 8, 2017 13:49:13 September 8, 2017 13:49:13

It lets you know what kind of movie it is right off the bat, when Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgård) bites the arm off a little kid before yanking him into a sewer. The kid in question is Georgie, with his iconic yellow raincoat, and his disappearance begins a year-long reign of terror in the sleepy Maine town of Derry. Based on one of Stephen King’s most beloved novels, It was first realized as a miniseries in 1990, which totally does not hold up and only remains notable for Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise. The movie, by virtue of Georgie’s violent, shark attack-like death, immediately sets itself apart, establishing both its horror and violence bona fides.

Clocking in over two hours, It feels long, and it’s a great example of when characters from sprawling novels should be cut or condensed. The core group of kids at the heart of the story includes seven people—the movie only needs, like, four. Tops. But they’re all here: Stuttering Bill (Jaden Lieberher), hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), loudmouth Richie (Finn Wolfhard), uptight Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and Beverly (Sophia Lillis). Of this over-inflated group, only Bill, Ben, and Beverly really matter. You could toss a coin for who should be the sidekick, Richie or Eddie. The others are completely superfluous.

It is primarily focused on the summer of 1989, when the rash of disappearances that began with Georgie has expanded to include multiple classmates, the kids start seeing their fears manifested, and a creepy clown with red balloons haunts the town. Bill Skarsgård is FANTASTIC as Pennywise, and for the first half of the movie, Pennywise is effective and creepy. In the second half, he becomes less effective as we see more of him, and the final confrontation with the kids would be ridiculous if it weren’t for Skarsgård and his commitment. As for the kids, they’re a mixed bag. Sophia Lillis is the stand-out as Beverly, bright and spunky and steely when necessary. She’s so good it defies logic that Bill is the main kid. He’s the main dude in the book, but the way this movie shakes out, Beverly should be the central protagonist.

It is most famous for Pennywise, but the real horror is the usual awful stuff humans do to one another, and how people are prone to looking past signs of abuse in order to maintain a polite, neighborly façade. To a degree, It captures this well, giving us moments with each kid, even their borderline deranged bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), to see their home lives and what they’re hiding. But again, the sheer number of kids included means that some get short-changed. Mike, for instance, has horrible backstory that suggests the good people of Derry tried to drive his family out of town by burning their house down. And Beverly, it is implied, is being molested by her father.

This is where It goes a little sideways. As an R-rated movie, It has no problem showing us graphic scenes of violence, but for some reason the movie shies from explicitly naming the abuse the kids are suffering. It’s pretty clear Beverly is being raped by her father, but the movie won’t completely commit to that reality. Likewise, Eddie’s mother obviously has Munchausen’s by proxy, but again, the movie stops short of explicitly calling it out, and instead makes out Eddie’s mom to be a helicopter parent. Why? The whole point of It is how the demon inside Pennywise extrudes the real horror of the town, which is a choose-your-own-adventure of child abuse.

It is effectively scary, and since each kid has a different fear, there’s plenty of nightmare fuel to enjoy. But the real meat of the story is the various abuses the kids are suffering, and there It falls short, refusing to fully engage with the children as survivors of not only Pennywise, but also their own nightmarish parents. Henry Bowers, though a cartoonish portrayal of a bully, stands out as one of the more interesting characters simply because his actions are informed by his abuse. Beverly, too, gets a complete arc, but the other kids are adrift, and it makes them less interesting, since there is little to no connection between their home life and how they deal with Pennywise. It stares down creepy clowns, but turns away from the ultimate evil.

Wenn, Jason LaVeris/ Getty Images

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