I cannot stress this enough – Your reaction to “It” will be different from everyone else. Whether you find the movie scary or not will depend entirely on your fears and sensibilities. The majority of the crowd I saw “It” with was terrified of the supernatural clown that hunted down children, even though I found myself laughing most of the time this movie tried to scare me. The only person who should tell you if this movie is too scary for you is yourself.
In that case, ask yourself these questions. Do clowns freak you out? Are you petrefied when there’s a jump scare? If you answered yes to one or both these questions, then you’ll probably need a change of pants after watching “It.” But, if you’re like me and are not afraid of clowns and can see jump scares coming from a mile away, then most of the scenes with Pennywise the Dancing Clown will want to make you laugh at how serious they want you to take red balloons and a little kid in a yellow rain coat.
That being said, even if you do not find “It” scary, there is still a solid film to be found here. It might be hiding behind a screen of horror, but this movie works much better as a thriller with a solid group of kid main characters and the hilarious comradery they have. Imagine “Stand By Me” but instead of going to find a dead body, they were trying to find a murderous all-seeing demon creature disguised as a clown.
Set mostly in 1989 in Derry, Maine, the authorities have set a town-wide curfew after several children have gone missing. One of the first to disappear is little Georgie Denbrough, whose brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) takes pretty hard but is convinced that he is out there somewhere and not dead like everyone else thinks. In the summer, Bill convinces his high school friends Stan (Wyatt Oleff), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Richie (Finn Wolfhard) to help him track down his brother in a marshy area known as the Barrens. Instead, the group stumbles across the creepy dancing clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) that seems pretty keen on helping them float, just like the rest.
Eventually, our group of young high schoolers come across Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Mike (Chosen Jacobs) and Beverly (Sophia Lillis), who have all had strange run-ins with this clown as well. Once they all start putting the pieces together to find out more about Pennywise, the clown starts to pick up on it and stops at nothing to break these children before they can get to him.
Bill Skarsgard does a good job as Pennywise, but only when the filmmakers let him be creepy. His performance is chilling when a scene with Skarsgard is allowed to play out and its the clown that is the most terrifying part, instead of the special effects or the “BOO!” moment near the end. Unfortunately, most of the time the filmmakers feel the need to cut off Skarsgard’s performance so they can put in a big effect shot at the end of the scene, which I feel cheapens his role.
His scene at the beginning with Georgie and his toy boat was wonderfully handled, especially when they linger on Skarsgard for far longer than they need to. There were few effects in that scene, just a clown trying to get some candy. Then there are moments, like when Pennywise is in Bill’s flooded basement and the creepy factor ends when the clown rises out of the water and starts charging at Bill while shaking his head violently. That’s not Skarsgard being scary, but a bad digital effect that acts as little more than a jump scare.
It is my firm belief that jump scares are not scary. They are startling. It is the cinematic equivalent of yelling “BOO!” in someone’s face. And “It” has at least 20 jump scares, which is about 15 too many.
There are certainly horror moments in “It,” with the stand out scene coming about halfway through the movie in Beverly’s bathroom. The scene is something straight out of “The Shining” or “Nightmare on Elm Street” that leaves Beverly emotionally and mentally scarred for the rest of the film, and relies very little on digital trickery, instead going for practical effects, which is a rarity in this day-and-age. But the primary focus of the movie is on this group of children that slowly but surely overcome prejudice, bad rumors, abusive parents and other disabilities and evolve from children into adults.
Forget about the clown, the true star of the movie are these kids and the relationships they forge.
Going into this movie, I thought these children would be something straight out of some horrendous after-school special, with no personalities and serve only as fodder for Pennywise. I was proved completely wrong when you hear how foul-mouthed and feisty they can be. Each of them leads a fairly messed up life, some a bit more horrific than others, but they never lose any likability or overly sympathetic, especially Eddie, Richie, and Beverly. Each of them are funny in their own quirky way, like Richie who spews insults like crazy and has a bit of a motor-mouth.
I will remember “It” as a coming-of-age story with plenty of supernatural elements to it. While the filmmakers want to bombard you with silly scares, both digital and startling, the strength of this film comes down to these flawed kids fighting, not just a clown, but an entire world that did not believe in them. Your mileage on the horror elements will vary, but “It” was at least worth watching to see these children stand up for themselves.
Final Grade: B