Review: ‘It’ scares more with broken childhoods than with clowns

Marcus Goh
Contributor
It. (Warner Bros Pictures)

Secret ending? Audio

Running time: 135 minutes (2.25 hours)

It. (Warner Bros Pictures)

“It” is an American horror movie in English based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. It is the second screen adaptation after the 1990 two-parter.

Set in the 1980s, the film takes place in a small town where a number of children have gone missing. Seven children soon find themselves being haunted by a creature that may have a connection with the disappearances, and investigate. But it may come at a heavy cost to them.

“It” is directed by Andy Muschietti, with a screenplay by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman. The movie is rated NC-16 and stars Jaeden Lieberher (Bill Denbrough), Bill Skarsgard (Pennywise the Dancing Clown), Jeremy Ray Taylor (Ben Hanscom), Sophia Lillis (Bev Marsh), Finn Wolfhard (Richie Tozier), Wyatt Oleff (Stan Uris), Chosen Jacobs (Mike Hanlon), Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie Kaspbrak), Nicholas Hamilton (Henry Bowers), and Jackson Robert Scott (Georgie Denbrough).

It. (Warner Bros Pictures)

The first “It” was one of the earliest shows to use the scary clown trope, which has since resulted in almost all media portrayals of clowns being scary. However, the horror from “It” doesn’t just come from evil clowns and other horrific creatures hiding in the darkness. What the seven children experience, and their scarred childhoods, is what makes the film a true horror movie on multiple levels.

It. (Warner Bros Pictures)

Highlights

Excellent performances from the whole cast

Despite the youth of the main cast members, they all put in superb performances for “It”. Their portrayals subtly depict the innocence of childhood being lost amidst their own personal stories, with the overarching story of It being the visual metaphor for that loss. Even with such serious subject matter, they never stop forgetting to act like young teenagers, and they manage to be childlike without being childish. Given their age, it’s an impressive feat, and the casting was superbly done.

It. (Warner Bros Pictures)

Strong character development for the protagonists

The story of “It” is not just about a creepy clown going after children. It’s also about how they have to deal with the realities and imperfections of adulthood, and serves as a strong coming-of-age story (though it’s more recognisable as a horror film). The children each have their own personal struggles to deal with, with some of them concerning uncomfortable issues like sexual abuse. It’s the lingering discomfort in their backstories that amplifies the horror of It.

It. (Warner Bros Pictures)

Creepy and effective special effects

The digital effects in “It” segue naturally with the practical effects and what has been shot, resulting in believable and realistic monsters that fit with the shooting style of the movie. The ostensible realism of the horrible creatures (and Pennywise) that the children face make us question whether our own childhood fears were, in a way, real as well.

It. (Warner Bros Pictures)

Letdowns

Overuse of loud shocks

Jump scares and loud bangs are a necessity in horror films, but this technique is overused in “It”. It gets unnecessarily repetitive after a while, especially once we get to know the children. After all, the creepiness of the film also comes from the personal stories of the protagonists. You come to expect jump scares by the middle of the film, and by then they become annoying, rather than scary.

It. (Warner Bros Pictures)

Pennywise stops being scary partway through the film

Pennywise is truly frightening — when he first appears. After the first few appearances, there are diminishing returns to his scariness. You know exactly how he looks, what objects signal his presence, and how he moves by the end of the first act. Familiarity breeds contempt, and Pennywise becomes one of those villains who are all bark and no bite by the end of the film. It’s unfortunate too, given that Pennywise is genuinely terrifying if you were to watch any of his scenes in isolation.

It. (Warner Bros Pictures)

Too many individual storylines to follow

While each character has a strong backstory, the problem is that there are seven of them. The film tries to show us each of their personal tragedies, but this also becomes a repetitive structure where we see each character’s family and their respective encounters with It. Not all of the characters have fully resolved arcs either, which makes it a pity given that so much effort was put into setting up these stories.

It. (Warner Bros Pictures)

“It” was a horror classic in its day, and this 2017 version is just as scary. However, scary clowns have become a rather standard trope in many horror films, leading Pennywise to lose much of his punch. Nevertheless, it’s still good horror fare for those who enjoy being terrorised in a dark cinema.

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? Yes.

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? If you like horror or the “It” franchise.

Score: 3.1/5

“It” opens in cinemas:
– 7 September, 2017 (Singapore)
– 7 September, 2017 (Malaysia)
– 7 September, 2017 (Philippines) 

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for “Police & Thief”, “Incredible Tales”, “Crimewatch”, and “Point of Entry”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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