Director: Andrés Muschietti
Actors: Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lilis, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs and Jeremy Ray Taylor, with Bill Skarsgård as It.
Story: Seven misfits, known as the Losers Gang, discover that a demonic entity that takes the shape of a clown is murdering children in the town of Derry and fight to stop It before it harms anyone else.
My rating: 9/10 (yep, it’s that good.)
TL;DR: Get yo ass to the theatre ASAP to watch this.
Before we start, I need to mention that I have neither read the novel by Stephen King, nor watched the 1990 TV adaptation. (We seem to clarify this before every review. I watch a lot of films in isolation, please don’t shame me for it.)
So when I read the Wiki article on the novel, boy was I in for a shock! It changed my impression of the film slightly, in that I suddenly realised that the novel was way more complex and that the film had simplified plots and characters a lot. But overall, it’s still pretty positive. Let’s begin.
Children are the first and foremost characters in this movie.
It is the first A-rated film I’ve watched that is about children but not for children. For those unfamiliar with the Indian censorship system (yeah, we still have one), the ‘A’ certificate is given to films considered to be watchable only by legal adults. Typically, they feature a lot of profanity and/or nudity and violence. It doesn’t have the second one, although it does have plenty of the other two.
The film focuses exclusively on two gangs of kids, with the adults being peripheral and existing only as dark, villainous characters who prey on children.
I can’t begin to express how refreshing this is, considering the exact opposite is what we normally get. It, like Stranger Things (the comparison was inevitable!), treats its children as people. It takes a peek into their inner lives and allows them to become fully developed, well-rounded characters who can make you laugh while arousing sympathy for their complex lives and admiration for how each of them chooses to deal with it.
The movie has 10/10 acting and dialogue.
The best part about this movie is that the acting is excellent. Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things fame steals the entire show as Richard ‘Trashmouth’ Tozier. This kid is going to grow up to be a great actor one day and I’m already so excited. He had the entire hall in splits multiple times during the film, and the credit for that goes as much to the scriptwriters (and Stephen King) as to him.
Bill Skarsgård as It is, not to put too fine a point on it, fucking terrifying. So that’s good. Or very bad, depending on how easily you scare.
Guys, this is a secular horror film.
One of my pet peeves about Hollywood’s horror movies is how Christian they are. Like, dudes, we get it, y’all are mostly cis white het males chilling in air-conditioned boardrooms thinking the entire world is made in your image. (Spoiler alert: it’s not.)
But your movies, unlike you, are going out to a wide range of audiences all over the world. If you could not make them flinch every 5 minutes by implying that only absolute faith in Christ, Christianity and Christian rituals will get rid of the (anti?) Christian demons that haunt the Christian white family that is being attacked, that’d be freaking great, thanks. At least then I wouldn’t feel like I was permanently stuck in a loop of reading Dante’s Inferno and realising I am pagan and therefore consigned to hellfire for all eternity despite being a pretty nice person, all because I am, you know, not Christian (*clears throat* looking at you, The Conjuring universe).
It doesn’t bother with any of this shite.
It simply reminds you that there is a bunch of evil in this world, and the only way to defeat it is by just being good- not any particular definition of good. The focus in the movie is on conquering evil by conquering one’s fear of it. Once you do that, the evil is as good as dead, because it can’t intimidate you anymore. While this is certainly excellent advice on dealing with killer clowns, it’s also great for dealing with human bullies and life in general. Jussayin’.
All of this is, of course, thanks to the novel. Stephen King, I owe you one. For once, I could actually relate to the climax of a horror movie while watching It. I found myself egging the characters on as they fought back. You go, kids. I love you.
The movie has a very sobering portrayal of real-life evil.
The other problem with Hollywood horror films is how insulated they are from real life. There’s always this incredibly simplistic one-dimensional struggle of poor little human beings who are fighting against supernatural creatures determined to make them miserable, as if evil exists only in the abstract and the preternatural.
But humans are pretty great at making each other miserable too, and It never forgets that. One of the best parts of the film is watching the kids fight back against the distant, alienated, tyrannical adults, usually parents, who oppress them, sometimes in incredibly damaging ways.
Watch out for young Beverly’s story. Sophia Lilis is a powerful actress and she gives to the movie one of its most disturbing scenes that reminds you of another Stephen King novel, Carrie. Watching her nemesis get what is coming to him was honestly one of the most satisfying parts of the movie for me.
Feminism and Consent
While the movie adapts the book’s characters faithfully, there is no doubt that less attention is given to the non-white kids, Stanley (who is Jewish) and Mike (he’s black). One could also say this about Richard, though, whose family background is not shown at all.
The part that truly disturbed me came right at the end, in a very non-consensual scene between Beverly and Ben.
Beverly was unconscious at the time and was revived by Ben’s kiss, an unbelievably dated fairytale-ish (in the worst way) ending that serves to undermine the characterisation of Beverly that has been built up for so long. It sends a disturbing message, both of kissing the girl without her consent, however noble the motive, and the idea that the girl needs the boys’ help to be rescued and literally woken up, a la Snow White or Sleeping Beauty.
Although the movie is way less explicit than the novel, the most important difference is that Bev had her own agency in the novel, and she used it. Here, this is quite obviously not the case. How very disappointing in an otherwise pretty good movie.
To top it all off, It has an inspirational final message.
What I did like very much about the film was its core truth: stand together and help each other, and no mythical monster can get in your way. It doesn’t have anything to do with how you look or how you pray. I don’t think anyone will deny the relevance of this message in the world we live in.
My friend Subhadrika, who I watched this movie with, has a different take.
“I think the movie reminded us to face our fears,” she says. “We’re often so paralysed by what we are frightened of that we don’t even consider fighting back. The movie tells us that we should, both in the human world and in the demonic one.”
Check out Subhadrika’s blog, where she gushes about books, much like me!
Pretty Damn Scary Clown
Finally, let’s not forget about the actual star of It, Pennywise, the dancing clown, whose beautiful mug will give you nightmares for months to come. I’m not gonna deny it guys, he’s pretty fucking scary, especially with all the teeth. I may or may not have ‘watched’ entire chunks of action with my eyes closed.
(Stop tittering, it’s impolite. Also, you would, too.)
If you’re looking for old-world creepiness, you’re certainly going to get it in this film.
It is a very enjoyable film, even quite family-friendly in comparison with the novel, and you should definitely watch it.
Whether you watch it for the inspirational message, the hilarious banter between the kids or the creepy-ass clown is entirely up to you, because regardless, you will probably end up finding all three.