If, for some reason, the gaudily painted face of Pennywise and primarily prepubescent cast tricked you into believing that IT was a lighthearted film with a couple of jump-scares, I have some bad news for you. The gory opening scene will knock out any pre-conceived notions that this is anything but 135 minutes of pretty scary stuff. I could imagine that for an avid horror film enthusiast the repetition of common horror film tropes, such as the vast amounts of blood and a seemingly never-ending series of jump-scares, could grow a bit tiring. However, for someone who was scared by Wallace and Gromit’s Curse of the Were-rabbit, I found it extremely entertaining, albeit very stressful.
What made IT stand out from the vast amount of 15-rated horror films out there, in my eyes, is that underneath all the nightmarish imagery, the story revolves around kids you really care about. The film focuses on the adventure of Bill Denbrough, played by Jaeden Lieberher, and his friends, who are all 13-14 year olds trying to survive their way through growing up in the face of bullies and family issues in their small hometown of Derry in Maine. This is a difficult task in itself, which is made a lot trickier during their subsequent encounters with Bill Skarsgård’s fantastically terrifying Pennywise, a chilling recount of Tim Curry’s earlier depiction of the same villain, made even more haunting through the fantastic use of special FX which creates Pennywise’s garish smile and terrifying teeth. The group of teens come into contact with Pennywise whilst trying to discover what happened to Bill’s missing little brother, and discover the cause of the numerous missing children in their small town.
What follows is an exploration into all the young casts’ deepest fears, which is how Pennywise terrifies his victims, such as summoning zombie-like lepers for Eddie’s fear of illness. However, the episodic nature of most of the teens separate encounters with Pennywise can sometimes feel a little disjointed, and arguably limits the films ability to build up to the haunting climax effectively. Nevertheless, this episodic nature allows deeper exploration and character development, most notably in the gory scene where Bev, the only female member of the group, is faced with a gratuitous amount of blood on all the walls of her bathroom, which can easily be seen as a metaphor for this young teenage girl’s fears of maturity and her development from child to woman. This character development is paired with a standout performance from newcomer Sophia Lillis, who plays the role with such subtle conviction that makes her painful backstory even more heartbreaking.
The entire young cast performs brilliantly, setting a promising precedent to a new generation of young Hollywood actors. Most notably Jaeden Lieberher’s Bill, fitted with a stutter and dedication to the characters visible social awkwardness that everyone who has had an embarrassing teenage phase can relate to. Another nod should go to Finn Wolfhard’s Richie, who delivers the characters endless sexual innuendos and puns with perfect comic timing. Viewers will recognise Wolfhard from Netflix’s Stranger Things, which is similarly filled with 80s nostalgia and adventurous kids.
I came out of IT slightly shaken, but more overwhelmingly impressed by the performance of these young actors, and with the affirmation that true connections between young friends can triumph over anything… even if that ‘anything’ is a sadistic, nightmarish clown.