There’s so often a disconnect in the horror genre, where the viewer distances themselves from the protagonists, unable to comprehend their actions, and see any logic in their desire to seemingly pursue danger. We all know you shouldn’t go into the woods, or the basement, and yet we watch on as they ignore their conscience and follow their instinct. It’s a jarring aspect to so many films within the genre – except where kids are involved. To be so blissfully naïve and endearingly curious, to abide by the notion of acting now, and worrying about the consequences later. It’s here Andy Muschietti’s IT thrives, as we adopt the perspective of a collective of children, making for an entertaining, and genuinely quite terrifying horror; a difficult balance to get right.
Adapting Stephen King’s novel, which of course spawned the TV series featuring Tim Curry which ensured this writer couldn’t ever get to sleep when younger – we delve into Derry, a town plagued by tragedy, often involving missing children. One of which is the younger brother of Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), who is dragged into the gutter by a nefarious monster who takes on the form of a clown, and calls himself Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard). Bill is convinced there’s something more at play, and alongside his closest friends – which includes his crush Beverly (Sophia Lillis) – the group set off into the sewers to uncover the real reason behind the child disappearances, though know that in doing so they’re going to have to face all of their fears, which includes this evil clown.
We meet Pennywise in the opening scene as we see him lure Bill’s younger brother into his trap, only to then eat him alive. In some ways it’s effective to meet our seemingly formidable opponent so early on, to establish exactly what we’re to come up against. But conversely, it detracts from the mystery of the film – as Muschietti plays his cards so early, leaving so little to the imagination. It’s a shame he couldn’t structure the tale more intelligently in that regard, particularly given the film exceeds two hours, resulting in a truly absurd final act, which just shows you too much, whereas we all know in this genre less is so often much more.
It is intriguing how this antagonist is representative, and emblematic of our own fears, which he projects onto his victims. There’s a triumphant balance between supernatural scares and the horrors of every day life, as we tap into a fear and anxiety that derives from school bullies and abusive parents, grounding the tale somewhat and ensuring it remains relatable. Relatively speaking, at least.
But the film’s greatest asset is also it’s curse – as there’s a distinct Spielbergian approach to the material, as the collective of children riding around on their bicycles, in a film pretty much devoid of any substantial adult characters – harks back to the likes of E.T. and more recently, Stranger Things (and that’s not just because Finn Wolfhard features). It places children at the heart of their own story, left to their own devices, a tried, tested and triumphant technique – and yet one that feels out of place here. It enriches the narrative, especially from a tonal perspective – but seems wasted in a film that is gory and overtly frightening, and evidently not aimed at a teen crowd at all, whereas had they dumbed down on some of the violence (and swearwords) this could’ve had more accessibility, and thus utilised it’s strongest asset. Which surprisingly, is not actually the clown.
IT is released on September 8th.