:Movie Review: It (2017)


Release Date:  September 8, 2017 (USA)
Studio:  Warner Bros. Pictures
Starring:  Jaeden Lieberher and Bill Skarsgård
Music:  Benjamin Wallfisch
Director:  Andy Muschietti
Rated R

Review by William Nesbitt
Professor of English
Beacon College, http://www.beaconcollege.edu

With the success of shows set in the 1980s such as Stranger Things—which shares actor Finn Wolfhard with It—it’s not entirely surprising that a film based on a novel partially set in the 1980s and written in the 1980s by an author who was very popular in the 1980s might do well.  Though the novel form of It begins in the 1950s and ends in the 1980s, the 2017 cinematic version begins in the 1980s in the small town of Derry, Maine where a group of teenagers begins to have strange experiences all revolving around a mystical clown named Pennywise.  Pennywise manifests their greatest fears whether it is recalling a horrific memory of being caught in a fire, infection and disease, or biological change and reproductive function.  The teenagers are all outsiders in some way, often tormented and bullied by a group of older teenagers, and they form a group they call the Losers Club.

Eventually, they realize they must confront Pennywise and to defeat him they must lose their fear of him.  Thus, much of the theme of the movie is fear and, more specifically, that we must overcome fear.  As Henry Bowers’ father says, “Ain’t nothing like a little fear to make a paper man crumble.” There are other subthemes.  One of these is that community provides strength and that one can do more with other people than alone as the characters finally realize that they must band together to beat Pennywise.  That community may not be a larger community such as general society or a preformed group such as one’s family.  Instead, such a community may be an outsider collective created by its members.  At one point, several of the characters push back against their parents in order to leave home, get together with the other members of the club, and head out to come to terms with Pennywise.  In order to become, or start to become, self-actualized individual and adults, we must begin discarding or at least questioning the models that have come before us, trusting ourselves, and making our own decisions.  An early scene with Mike Hanlon brings some of these themes together.  Mike lives with his grandfather who slaughters livestock.  An animal that appears to be a lamb is isolated in a pen with a gate.  Immediately after this scene, the door of a schoolroom bursts open and various children erupt from it.  The movies implies a connection between isolation, slaughter, and the children as penned animals in the institution of school. 

Our first sighting of and encounter with Pennywise is downright spooky.  As the movie progresses, Pennywise seems to become less scary and more predictable.  But perhaps this is the point.  As the central characters lose their fear of him, so do we.  Pennywise is a sort of dark Peter Pan.  Talking to Georgie, he offers a world of circuses, cotton candy, popcorn, balloons, and floating—not too far from the flying Peter Pan and the children perform—that sounds like a world of perpetual childhood.  The problem, of course, with being a child is that one can never become an adult.  Instead, one floats without direction in a world that offers no real sustenance.

Current sales figures suggest that It is poised to become the highest-grossing horror movie of all time.  Some of that may depend on what you consider horror.  No matter what the sales settle at, is It better than (insert name of seminal/classic horror film/series) just because it outsold the other films?  Maybe not, but nonetheless it’s worth a ticket.  If you’re a fan of Stephen King, read the book, saw the 1990 miniseries and are curious how it compares, or are a casual horror fan, you should see the film.  The second film is due in 2019.

By the way, the soundtrack is, to use an eighties phrase, bitching—New Kids on the Block notwithstanding (and even their song titles figure into the movie in a romantic subplot)—with songs from The Cult, The Cure, XTC, and Anthrax.



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