By Mario Ricciardi
Everyone is afraid of something. Whether “It” is heights, the dark or that calc class, these fears are very personal. Sure, the other 29 kids in your calc class seem uncomfortable, but internally it feels like you’re the only one losing sleep over it.
On the contrary, everyone hopes for something too: love, the holidays or passing that calc class. The second film adaption of Stephen King’s “It” does a nice job putting these two counterparts at odds to show the strength of hope in the face of your worst fears.
Despite the pop-culture status of the killer clown Pennywise, “It” is really the story of the Losers’ Club, a group of funny, lovable and foul-mouthed junior high schoolers who don’t fit in anywhere except with each other.
As an ancient shape-shifting monster returns to the town of Derry, Maine, the group must learn to face their worst fears, band together and save their town. Played by one of the greatest ensemble casts of child actors I have ever seen on screen, the kids in the Losers’ Club are easily the film’s high point.
As the movie progresses forward, you find that you desperately want each one of them to make it out alive, but after the infamous opening scene you know no kid is safe.
Whereas the young stars were the ones responsible for packing the film with heart, Bill Skarsgård was responsible for breathing new horror into the classic killer clown Pennywise. Unfortunately with the spectrum of hope versus fear being so in favor of the kids, Pennywise feels like nothing more than a plot device to move the story forward.
Despite being symbolic of fear incarnate, he rarely delivers any more than a few jump scares. Skarsgård plays the character wholeheartedly with conviction, but you can’t help but feel that the direction he was given led to an underwhelming version of the character.
The scariest moments of the film come from the abusive parents who the Losers’ Club members Eddie and Beverly live with, and the local bully (dare I say, sociopath) Henry Bowers who stalks the town looking to do nothing but hurt the kids.
The film serves as an interesting analogy to fear itself. Although a lot of our focus can be on the irrational fears of the mind (Pennywise), the most prevalent horror is in the physical world around us (the abusive parents, Henry Bowers).
I found myself laughing and aww-ing, but there was very rarely a moment of true fear in the film. I felt suspense was the closest it got and that was rarely on account of Pennywise. In the wake of “The Conjuring” movies and indie-hits like “Don’t Breathe” and “It Follows,” I feel like “It” was not a step backwards in terms of horror films, but it definitely was not a step forward.
Its marketability was handed to it thanks to the masterfully written 1,138 page Stephen King novel. With such rich, detailed source material, as well as being in the second golden-age of TV, I couldn’t help but wonder why “It” didn’t return to the miniseries format.
The cinematic experience definitely helped the film, but I felt that it wasn’t enough to overrule the time and backstory one-hour episodes would have allowed.
Chapter one of “It” is a wonderful coming of age tale, but it does little for the horror genre apart from attempt to regurgitate the world Stephen King created in two hours. That being said, for a film centered around fear it offers an awful lot of hope, and that battle between the two is definitely something the film got right.
(3/5 penguins) 🐧🐧🐧