‘It’ Is a Sinister Horror Film With a Hopeful Message

Coulrophobia, the fear of clowns, is a phobia that seems to be exclusive to people under the age of 40, one that is baffling to older generations. This is in some small part due to “It,” the 1986 novel by Stephen King that was adapted into a miniseries in 1990 and follows a group of small-town teenagers being terrorized by Pennywise, a killer clown. Now it’s a new generation’s turn to be disturbed with visions of a sinister villain in circus make-up as “Mama” director/writer Andrés Muschietti has teamed up with “Beasts of No Nation” filmmaker Cary Fukunaga for their new adaptation of the classic.

It,” which retains its 80s setting, opens on a rainy day in October 1988. Almost immediately a little boy, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), is brutally attacked and dragged into a sewer by Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). This sets the tone for much of the rest of the story, that no one is safe. Fast forward to the following June, Georgie’s older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) still hasn’t come to terms with the fact that his little brother is most likely dead. With the school year now officially over, Bill and his fellow “loser” friends decide to look for clues in the disappearance of Georgie and several other children who have gone missing over the past eight months. This gang of misfits includes potty-mouth Richie (“Stranger Things” star Finn Wolfhard, a kid with a bright future who stands out among this already promising cast), rabbi’s son Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) and possible Munchausen syndrome victim Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer). The group is eventually joined by Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), whose weight makes him an easy target for sociopathic classmate Henry (Nicholas Hamilton) and his fellow degenerates, who also bully homeschool kid Mike (Chosen Jacobs), the town’s sole African-American kid who sometime earlier lost his parents in a gruesome manner. Rounding out the bunch is its only female member, Beverly (Sophia Lillis). Plagued by rumors of promiscuity, Bev’s only real crime is being a beautiful, free-thinking redhead.

As one would expect, there are plenty of scenes that involve a terrifying clown popping out to frighten the characters of the film, as well as the viewer. However, Muschietti and Fukunaga go deeper here, as Pennywise appears to each kid in different but equally terrifying forms that are tailored to each of their fears and vulnerabilities. It is the bookworm Ben who discovers through library research that these sinister happenings occur in their town every 27 years, leading the kids to show immense bravery as they push to defeat Pennywise once and for all. Their quest leads them straight into the town’s sewer system, in which Muschietti and his team have created a labyrinth of sorts that is sure to be nightmare fuel for many viewers, one filled with visions that one would expect to see in a film by Guillermo del Toro. This is what sets “It” apart from the typical horror films that rely on jump cuts and repetitive violence – It’s stunning visuals and willingness to dig deep into the characters’ psyches.

Perhaps the most terrifying visions come to Bev. The unfortunate young woman not only has to deal with unwanted advances from local hormone-ridden boys, but also from her own father, (Stephen Bogaert) who is heavily implied to have already raped her. In one heartbreaking scene, she cuts off her hair in an attempt to appear less attractive, only to have it come back out of the sink to reach out and grab her. The vines of hair are followed by globs of blood, which evokes another great King film, “Carrie,” not only the horrifying final prom scene, but also the locker room scene in the beginning, tapping into a fear of many young woman.

Despite all of these terrors, “It” is unusually hopeful for a film of this genre. It carries a positive message about teamwork and friendship as the kids band together, putting the collective group before their individual selves. Just like in “Carrie,” we also see some moving scenes of budding teen love, but unlike in that film, without giving too much away, “It” escapes a bleak ending, with our heros not looking down on a scene of death and devastation, but toward a brighter future.

It” opens nationwide Sept. 8.