I have been waiting for this film since I was 11 years old, when I first read the book. I’ve read it every year since, endured what people said was a good movie in the made-for-TV version, but what I’ve been waiting for – is here.
The film that would play out what I’ve had in my mind all these years.
We are lulled into the world of IT with pure brotherly love, meeting Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) and Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) as they make that paper boat. There’s real tenderness, the music is gentle, the light is filtered through the curtains as the rain falls outside.
Georgie helps gather supplies, even from the scary dark basement, scary only because of the fear in his mind, the kind of fear we can relate to – quickening our pace down a dark hallway, squeezing our eyes shut while searching for the lightswitch, or avoiding mirrors at night.
The trip to the basement provides the only “fake” scares of the entire film, and even then they aren’t – because it’s just Georgie’s fear we are feeling.
“You want it to float, don’t you?”
The screech of the walkie talkie echoes through the cinema, grating, uncomfortable – it feels out of place.
As the younger brother says his goodbyes and launches the SS Georgie down the flowing street, the music lightens to a Speilberg-esque melody that brings goosebumps and memories of family Christmas movies and straight-up joy.
Then it begins.
And it doesn’t give you a break.
IT does not shy away from the shocking brutality from the novel. Georgie’s encounter with Pennywise lets you know this from the very beginning, the clown’s spit running down its lips as it seduces the boy into a brief friendship that ends in, well – it ends.
A year passes, and George is just one of many missing children in the town of Derry. There’s a curfew of 7pm.
This town isn’t safe.
Almost every adult we see in this film – all in positions of power, all people the kids should be able to turn to – is unable to see the real danger, creepy, manipulative, straight-up abusive or even dangerous.
The older kids are bullies. And not just your standard kind. Henry Bowers and his goons go beyond your regular “steal your lunch money” crowd. They are a genuine threat to your life.
And then, of course, there’s IT.
Sometimes the monsters don’t win, because we can’t let them. And it takes the resilience of those who know all too well what it means to feel fear to beat them. And what it actually takes to beat them.
This is what IT is really about.
The Losers Club.
Bill, Richie, Stan and Eddie are progressively joined by Ben, Mike and Bev.
Each with their own demons to face, their personal battles only adding to the terror when IT makes itself known to each of them in unique and terrifying ways.
Bill can’t let go of Georgie, Stan (Wyatt Oleff) has the pressure of not meeting up to his religious father’s expectations, Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) has a hypochondriac mother who has absolutely successfully passed these tendancies on to her son.
Richie? He’s the comic relief – the class clown, a straight-up smartass. And his portrayal by Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) is brilliant. He adds a lightness to the most heaving and anxious parts of this film, of which there are many – but none of it feels forced. He is a genuinely funny kid experiencing true horror – and yet his character and his survival instincts for comedy help balance the film beautifully.
Richie is perfect. Perfect.
Frankly I’m a bit upset about Mike (Chosen Jacobs). Mike had his “history buff” identity taken from him, and has essentially been reduced to a token black character whose defining feature is having trouble with – and then not having trouble with – killing a sheep with a bolt gun. Also his grandfather knows there’s evil in this town.
Mike deserved more, and to give Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) all the brains seems like a strange move. Honestly Ben was interesting enough even without throwing him “I know all the things” bone, with his sweet demeanour, sweeter poetry and his adorable New Kids On The Block obsession. He is the true romantic of the group.
Bev’s self worth is tied up entirely in her sexuality – it’s all she knows, thanks to her father. Rumours fly about her promiscuity, she’s flirtatious and not afraid to bat her eyelids for the greater good.
For those who are wondering – no, they don’t do that scene. I was wondering how it would work, and frankly I’m glad it was cut. While a shocking and powerful moment in the book, the translation to this film would have been overwhelmingly problematic.
These characters were created over 31 years ago, and it’s all too easy to pick the tropes and stereotypes and problematic characterisation of women as damsels and objects of desire.
Yet this character and her motivations and her purpose, for all its cliches, still makes sense for Bev, played with subtle complexity by Sophia Lillis. Her strength is built from her lack of agency in her life until this point. And that strength is integral to bringing the group together, making it powerful.
The omnipresent Henry Bowers and his mates won’t just punch you in the face, they will do a burnout on your face in their Trans Am, and that’s made real clear.
There are moments when you feel just as much fear from these boys as you do the clown, sometimes simultaneously – but more often one after the other – bang, bang, there’s no time to rest – and home isn’t safe either, and none of the adults are stepping in to help.
We only really get to know Henry, which is a shame. Patrick Hocksetter’s obsession with killing animals and stuffing them in a refrigerator was missed, but I suppose there’s only so much you can fit in a two hour long movie.
Stephen King’s work often centres around the humans being the real monsters. Henry Bowers, played by a mullet-wearing Nicholas Hamilton, lives up to that task.
Lets take a moment to give a shout out to the brilliant special effects team on this film – both digital and physical, IT is astounding.
The way IT moves is eerie and perfect. IT jolts and twists and turns and comically plops as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, all edged with terror.
IT both reveals parts of itself and doesn’t in the cleverest way. When he’s injured, the blood floats.
Bill Skarsgård had some big clown shoes to fill, with a lot of Tim Curry loyalists out there. He did not disappoint. Put me down as saying he did it better, I’m okay with that.
For the book buffs out there, know that the detail is exceptional – right down to the the Gulf branded paraffin wax.
There are differences though – it’s not the 1950’s, it’s the 1980’s – making the story more relatable to today’s audience and tapping into that nostalgia that Stranger Things set up so well before it.
There’s a couple of moments that make me feel like there were deleted scenes, or nods to the “book” fans that needed more context for the first-time viewer.
“Beep Beep, Richie” makes an appearance – but only once. Because there’s no setup, it makes zero sense to the uninitiated audience.
We see Bill practising his “He Thrusts His Fists Against The Posts And Still Insists he Sees the Ghosts” line, but are never told he does it to combat his stutter. Pennywise repeats it later, it doesn’t make whole lot of sense. Bill also still has his stutter during the end scene, only losing it once just before entering the house on Neibolt St.
Speaking of Neibolt St – yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes I want to go there yes. It is the quintessential haunted house only this time – IT is the ghost, and it is real. It’s like if A*Mazing were a house, that could kill you, full of terrifying corpses that aren’t exactly behaving dead.
IT is stressful, IT is heartfelt, IT has tender moments, IT has funny moment, IT has absolute terror at its core.
IT understands that true horror stems from humankind, and the only way to overcome fear is love.
Go watch IT.