The newest adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 classic horror novel It sees director Andy Muschietti blending juxtaposed styles into a miss-matched jambalaya of sweet horror. At times recalling the coming of age tale Stand By Me, also a King adaptation, It revolves around a band of young social outcasts known as the Losers Club in the small town of Derry, Maine as they struggle in a game of survival against Pennywise, an incarnation of the shapeshifting force of evil known as “It.” The movie’s surface-level conflict between the killer clown and kids belies a complex interplay between themes of sex, violence and authority.
Other than the explicit horror of Pennywise the Clown, played with frenetic magnetism by Bill Skarsgård, It communicates to audiences the creeping horrors of growing up. In each of the Losers’ initial encounters with Pennywise, an individual fear is realized. For Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), a hypochondriac, It appears as a limping leper characterized as a “walking infection.” Other incarnations include a living portrait resembling a misshapen Modigliani, a headless boy, and Pennywise itself. As an exposition device, these encounters work excellently, providing information on the characters while developing the film’s themes. However, the constant scares early on decrease the poignancy of Pennywise’s later appearances. Indeed, the terrifying prospect of a shapeshifting evil clown starts to lose its effect as viewers begin to expect its various transformations.
But perhaps this is a part of the film’s aim. As the group discovers, staying together weakens Pennywise, or at least renders them invulnerable to its physical effects. It’s through the manipulation of perception that It isolates and offs its victims. So as the movie progresses and the scares become more familiar, the movie-going audience experiences a visceral parallel to the invulnerability felt by the Losers themselves: that of diminished fear.
The overall horror of It, it seems, lies in the subsuming of childhood rather than the images presented on screen. It lives in a small world of constant change and imagined fears, much like childhood. On the other hand, the movie portrays adulthood as a realm of realized fears and permanence, of grotesque lifestyles and sordid impulses. Every single adult seen on screen exudes malignant excess connected to the children’s developing sense of independence. While the children’s view of warped adulthood manifests in the momentary visible shock of Pennywise’s illusions, the creeping shock of growing up is left to percolate in audiences’ minds far after the screen fades to black.
The bonds between the children and their experiences during this pivotal summer echoes across the dark screen as It comes to an end and an unexpected addendum appears: a subtitle in white font, “Chapter One.” With this closing announcement It teases the possible repercussions of the summer on an adult Losers’ Club. Seeing how the children of Derry deal with the trauma of their experiences as adults will be one of the more interesting factors to look forward to in Chapter Two.