“It” successfully answers the question: what would happen if the pre-teen edition of the Breakfast Club battled a demonic clown… and the result is surprisingly satisfying.
Andy Muschietti’s newest adaptation of Stephen King’s horror classic gives the story of “It” a much-needed face-lift – complete with effective jump scares and more carnage than 1990 version could safely handle. But if gore is what you want, you’d be better off waiting for the newest installment of the Saw series because, in this horror film, the body count is shockingly irrelevant.
The film opens with two brothers making a sailboat, and as the S.S. Georgie makes her maiden voyage – the killing starts. But rather than assaulting the viewer with a gory spectacle of a child’s corpse, the film pulls back, and normalcy is temporarily restored; this is because Muschietti’s directorial style is more Hitchcock and less Cronenberg. The atmosphere, the eerie feeling that something is somehow amiss, the slight tingle on the back of your neck is where this film really succeeds.
After the first body is dropped, Muschietti welcomes the viewer to take a step back in time and enter the small town of Derry, Maine where Tim Burton’s Batman plays at the local theater, kids walk around sporting walkmans, and “Bust A Move” was a radio hit. School is just letting out and kids are starting their summer vacation: playing Street Fighter in the arcade or cliff jumping into the lake.
Like most towns, the streets of Derry are lined with bland brick and wood houses accompanied by two station wagons in the driveway. The town square features a large clock tower over city hall and the library has an American Flag decorating the lawn – add in the road work on the corner to the streets, and you’ll realize that you’ve probably been to this town. The humdrum appearance of life in Derry is marred by the constant appearance of missing person ads that are attached to every building and every light post. Until the sinister Pennywise makes his appearance, these posters are the sole reminder that “there’s something really wrong here in Derry.”
Kids are disappearing, mauled corpses are being found near the sewer drains, and the adults are clueless. Enter the Loser’s Club – this ragtag team of misfits is the true heart of this film and the main reason why “It” is not a monster movie. The seven protagonists shine as a beacon for anyone who has ever felt out-of-place; these kids are isolated, bullied, and different than their peers which, when they come together, makes them Derry’s best hope of defeating the notorious “it.” Cheering for the protagonists is easy; that fear of being the new kid in school, the feeling of hiding in the bathroom so you don’t have to hear the other girls talk about you, the terroir of growing up is something that everyone has experienced. And that fear, the fear of upcoming adolescence is more pervasive than the fear of being devoured by Pennywise.
So when the kids face off against their vile nemesis, it’s impossible not to pump your fist in the air upon hearing Richie’s colorful battle cry; their success feels inevitable.
The movie’s not perfect. The pacing at times is sluggish. Some of the characters are also stiffed on screen-time, but these are minor problems. “It” delivers a powerful coming of age story wrapped in a bloody package. The uninitiated viewer can leave the film and feel satisfied that the story has reached a natural conclusion; as for the book readers…well, we know we’ll be back in Derry soon enough.