What is scary to you? I am sure if you made a list of five things, at least one would be something I have never feared a day in my life. And that's how fear works; it is personal. So personal we often don't discuss it. Whether it is some vestige of your childhood or a ongoing set of experiences, fear can make us act in ways we would never otherwise consider. That is the foundation of IT--those deep-seated fears that only you are aware of and most of life is lived without thinking about them. This Andy Muschietti adaptation of one of Stephen King's most famous novels is told through a lens of disappearing youth and teenage angst, but more than anything, it is about fear.
IT is set in 1980's Derry, Maine, a small-town with a strange and dark past. In the opening scene, we meet Bill and his younger brother, Georgie. Bill makes Georgie a paper boat to play with in the rain. All is well until the boat careens into the sewer. When Bill looks into the sewer to find it, he encounters Pennywise, a menacing clown who preys on fear. Pennywise entices him to reach into the sewer. At this point Georgie is pulled in, never to be heard from again. Georgie is the latest in a string of unsolved disappearances in the small town. Determined to figure out what happened to Georgie, Bill sets off to search the town.
Bill's friends call themselves "The Losers Club," as they are often bullied at school. When Bill enlists The Losers Club to help him find his little brother, they discover more and more about Derry and its history. Along the way, they take in new members to their friend group and they must all face the thing they fear most to get to the bottom of what is happening in Derry.
Adapting a Stephen King novel can be tough work. There are legions of people who will have read it and even more who are at least familiar with the broad outlines of the story. In the case of IT, the task is further complicated by the fact that this particular book is 1200 pages long and was already adapted into an iconic 1990 miniseries. And yet, Andy Muschietti's vision still comes through as precise and stands on its own. It is possible that if you go in with certain expectations, you might be surprised by the Stranger Things-adjacent feel to these kids and the horror they face. The edgy tones present in some of the advertisements is replaced with more whimsy, as the film represents a bridge from childhood to adulthood for these kids. By the end, their eyes are open to new realities that seem bound to shape who they are going forward.
The end result is a film that is probably more tender than one would expect. Because of the mayhem caused by such an unpredictable villain, the kids are forced to learn about themselves at every turn. If you take out the parts where the clown exposes rows of teeth that would make a great white shark envious and uses them to rip limbs off little children, this is basically just a sweet coming of age story. Think ET, but with the occasional mangled seven-year-old. There is romance, wisecracks and just general teenage memory-making. Because everyone seeing this will have at some point been a teen, it feels like most will find something to relate to here as the dynamics of this group are undoubtedly compelling.
If there is a flaw in the approach, it is in the sometimes episodic nature of exploring each individual character's fears. We wind up jumping between loosely related scenes in service of the greater messaging. It mostly works, but the film definitely covers an ambitious amount of ground in exploring the various fears. Ultimately, what is scary to you as individual might not be on display (though Pennywise feels universally terrifying), but it is easy to identify with a group of kids who are as scared of life itself as anything else.
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