Growing up with Stephen King books adds a certain tinge to the mundanity of life. Time intended for childhood is, instead, spent with eldritch monstrosities and otherworldly apparitions. What King doesn’t often betray easily is a thorough understanding of human evil and human fear. Often, King’s human antagonists maim and terrify far better than his supernatural monsters.
Andy Muschietti’s adaptation of iconic Stephen King novel IT understands that terribly well. King’s knack for terror doesn’t lie in creating grotesqueries. Rather, his ability lies in crafting sympathetic characters and scaring them in lieu of us as readers. Because we empathize with them, we share in their terror vicariously. We root for them. We love them.
IT understands fear. A demon isn’t meant to scare an intangible audience outside of its narrative world. A demon exists to scare the characters in its universe. IT’s jump scares are few and far between. Those that do pop up aren’t offensive unlike the primitive stylings of movie a la Annabelle. Pennywise (Bill Skarsgaard) shapes himself according to each child’s fears. It’s a veritable house of horrors that offers up scares in all the right places. If anything, Pennywise himself could have used more screen time and dialogue. True, some manifestations were cartoony to the point of ridicule. But they are not meant to scare you, anyway. They are meant to scare them. That’s what’s important.
So, when the evil, demonic clown manifests itself as each child’s deepest fear, it’s not graphic images or loud noises that get us. It’s empathic fear; it’s that sympathy that gets us to root for the good guys. IT, as a horror film, isn’t frightening or even shocking. IT’s gang of racist bullies can even overpower Pennywise’s horror factor. It’s what King would have wanted.
On the other side of the fence, IT’s Losers’ Club consists of lovable, charismatic, and dynamic individuals. It’s easy to empathize with their plights. Who hasn’t been a loser at some point in their life? Judging child actors can be difficult, but without a doubt, the Losers’ Club serves up the most convincing performances in the film. Additional props should be given to Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) and Sophia Lillis (The Lipstick Stain) for giving amazing performances.
If you’re looking for cheap thrills and jump scares, steer clear of IT. The film is more than just another The Conjuring rip-off. It’s a nostalgic adventure that straddles the fine line between classic horror and arthouse horror. It’s a journey between underdogs to each conquer their individual fears. Come for the clown; stay for the losers.