Looking Back at 2010s Films: It (2017)

5 Oct

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By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films, let’s talk about one of the most pleasant surprises of the decade, one of the most successful horror films of all time: “It.”

Or rather, “It: Chapter One.” I did see “It: Chapter Two,” and I’ll probably post its own review for that one–but “Chapter One” is what I want to focus on right now.

I love the central premise of “It”–there’s this thing that consumes children after feeding on their personal fears, and there’s a group of outcast kids that fight back, and as they reach adulthood, they have to confront the thing again, as well as their childhood traumas they tried to forget. The Stephen King novel of the same name has a lot of great stuff in it (and a lot of not-so-great stuff as well). The 1990 TV miniseries, as entertaining as it was (especially with Tim Curry as Pennywise the Dancing Clown), couldn’t quite tackle the heavier material with the adult portion of the story. (Even the director, Tommy Lee Wallace, doesn’t like the second part of the miniseries.)

The stuff with the kids in the miniseries was fine, mostly because the child actors were great, but there just wasn’t enough time to fully develop their experiences, their fears, what they have to overcome, etc. We needed a whole movie about all of that…and that’s where “It: Chapter One” came in.

“It: Chapter One” only focuses on the kids as they encounter and combat It, which can become each of their personal fears and mostly takes the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown (played by Bill Skarsgard). For Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), it’s guilt over the loss of his little brother Georgie; for Beverly (Sophia Lillis), it’s her abusive, sicko father; for Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), it’s bullies and morbid histories; for Mike (Chosen Jacobs), it’s fire (since his parents were killed in a house fire); for Stan (Wyatt Oleff), it’s a creepy abstract painting in his rabbi father’s temple office; for Eddie (Jack Dylan Glazer), it’s germs; and for Richie (Finn Wolfhard), it’s…clowns. (Tough break there, kid.)

This film knew to take the time to get to know these kids–who they are, what they go through, and just as important, how they relate to each other. They understand each other and therefore can help each other out. And they know the only way to defeat It is by sticking together, which is also how they can face their inner demons.

Despite the clown taking so much of the promotional material before the film’s release, Pennywise doesn’t have as much screen time as you would think. That’s because the clown isn’t as important as what It can become. But thanks to Skarsgard’s remarkably chilling portrayal, it’s hard not to feel Pennywise’s presence. And when he does show up…let’s just say he doesn’t help Bozo-phobics get over their fears.

The eyes…the mouth…the inflections in his voice…..Tim Curry’s Pennywise was a good clown and used it to lure children into his trap–if I saw Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise, I’d be running for my life. Poor Georgie should have, too…

Georgie’s death is one of the most shocking moments I ever experienced in any movie in a theater. Of course, I knew Georgie was going to die–I read the book, I saw the miniseries, everyone knew his fate. What I DIDN’T know was that it was going to be played so horrifically! I thought he was going to be sucked into the sewer drain with a scream (the “safe” way to kill a child in a horror movie)–but nope!

I didn’t think they’d go there…they went there. My mouth was agape for about five minutes after that scene. (And I usually skip over it on the DVD–as soon as Pennywise bares his sharp teeth and the second he bites into Georgie’s arm, I skip to the opening title.)

Another reason for this film’s success–it is scary! Director Andy Muschietti knows just as much as modern horror master Mike Flanagan and the classic horror directors that the best way to reach an audience with a horror film is with character, story, and ATMOSPHERE. Because we can relate to the characters and we understand the world they’re living in, we can get unnerved when the tension settles in yet again in many parts of the movie. And with nearly every eerie setup, there’s a frightening payoff. Speaking of which, whenever you see a red balloon, you know something’s going to happen…

I love the climax of the movie, which plays like a superhero action fight, as all of the kids take turns beating up Pennywise as It tries to take the shape of all their fears. It’s exciting and well-executed, and it made me want to take a shot in as well.

But we know it’s not over after that. After the kids think they’ve defeated It, they oath to each other that they’ll come back to finish the job if they need to. “Chapter Two” will take place 27 years later, when they’ve all become like the adults who wouldn’t help them as children and they must go back and finish what they started.

We’ve had many terrific horror films in the past few years, and “It: Chapter One” is one of the best. (And I’ll get to “It: Chapter Two” soon enough. I know a review for it’s already overdue.)

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