Review: ‘It’

Pennywise says, “You’ll float too”; And you will, right through the terrifying maze of clowns, nostalgia and adolescence in “It.”

by Maddy Folstein

Pennywise the Dancing Clown is back, thanks to the latest film adaptation of Stephen King’s “It,” a novel about Derry, Maine and the lurking horror that plagues the town with child deaths and disasters every 27 years. The new film brings the plot forward to 1989 from King’s original setting of 1957, injecting “It” with a hazy filter of nostalgia and a handful of New Kids on The Block references. 

The opening scene of “It” doesn’t deviate far from a similar scene in the 1990 television miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s famed novel — Georgie, tiny and adorned in a yellow raincoat, loses his paper boat in a storm drain. From the depths of the sewer appears Pennywise, the monster It most frequently inhabits and a character masterfully performed by Bill Skårsgard. 

All hope for Georgie is immediately lost, and so is our fleeting security in the small, cozy town of Derry.

And that’s what so much of “It” focuses on: a loss of comfort, security and innocence. This is a familiar topic to anyone who has been a pre-teen, but in “It,” the loss is initiated by an amorphous creature that typically appears as a clown and preys on fear.

Despite the haunting premise, the initial scares in “It” do not frighten so much as they let the film’s director, Andy Muschietti, flex his cinematography muscles. 

The results of Muschietti’s exploration are more creepy than terrifying. Occasionally, they were even gimmicky; I had to fight the instinct to laugh at some of the early scenes in the film. Maybe It’s transformations into the classic Pennywise or a distorted figure from a painting just aren’t what inhabit the corners of my own nightmares.

It isn’t until we, along with the ragtag heroes in The Losers’ Club, realize that what makes It so terrifying is that it encompasses any fear that the child victims may have. The monster’s reach is everywhere, and when we realize that, terror lurks in every corner. Where will It appear next?

We get to discover the nature of this monster with the Losers’ Club. We lose our naivete toward the world alongside this group of young, vulnerable kids.

The members of The Losers’ Club are the outcasts of Derry, and the young actors who fill these roles perform with earnestness and charm. They curse fearlessly, brazenly explore sewage tunnels and form group-wide blood oaths — typical preteen summer activities. They’re also much funnier than might be expected from one of Stephen King’s most recognizable horror tales. 

But the characters of The Losers’ Club are also distinguishable: their personalities and stories are defined by their individual fears. Particularly noteworthy is Beverly Marsh played by Sophia Lillis, the lone girl of the gang whose bravery shines throughout the film. 

Although The Losers’ Club has each other, the grown-ups in the film are noticeably non-existent, grieving, neglectful or abusive. In some way or another, each of the Losers is on their own — a haunting feeling when that isolation is pinned against an omnipresent beast like It. 

Visually, at times, “It” is a stunning film to watch, and there are scenes that make it easy to forget the horrors that lie beneath the surface. When the Losers head to the quarry to go swimming and exploring, Bev, naturally, is the first to dive into the glittery, green abyss, as the other Losers stand behind her in awe – a beautiful and haunting reminder of who will lead the Losers in their direst moments.

Somewhere in this intersection of horror and nostalgia is the “It” of 2017. Just like Derry, we had to wait 27 years (from the miniseries) for these terrors to haunt our nightmares. 

Let’s hope we won’t have to wait that long for the next installment. 

Grade: A-