My younger son and I decided to go and see some horror flicks — the genre that is all the rage this year. His pick to see was It, the latest incarnation of the Stephen King book by the same name. (Note that despite having an R rating in the US, in BC it has a 14A rating, meaning that my sixteen-year-old was able to see it in the theatre.)
As a teenager and young adult, I read a lot of Stephen King. I loved going to the movies and seeing Carrie (1976) and The Shining (1980) come so fully to life. I also really enjoyed Stand by Me (1986), which is a coming of age story rather than a horror. I’ve not been as interested in the horror genre in recent years, particularly as many movies now classed as horror are really just slasher flicks. But when my younger son wanted to go see It I thought, “Why not?”
There’s a reason why It has earned $576.5 million world-wide to date. (per Box Office Mojo) It is simply a really good movie! The style goes back to the horror films of earlier days, with thrills and chills that feel like a roller coaster ride. The audience is white-knuckled while waiting for the next scare and then sheepishly giggling with their neighbours between scenes. While there certainly is violence, there is also a really creepy atmosphere like in The Shining.
My son found that some of it was predictable, but that isn’t really a bad thing — some of what makes a good horror film scary is knowing that if the boy goes into the darkened basement, something bad is sure to happen. We found ourselves saying, “Don’t look into the sewer! and “Don’t go down there!” and “No! Don’t open that!”, quickly followed by, “Why would you do that?!”
The film makes good use of low lighting and an eerie sound track that builds at the scary moments. Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise, the evil entity that most often appears as a clown, is able to appear trustworthy and plausible in order to lure unsuspecting children into his suddenly violent grasp. (As an aside, I’m quite glad that Richard Armitage, despite being up for it, was not awarded this role, as in truth I don’t think he was right for it.) In addition to the evil clown manifestation, the evil also has invaded the town psyches. Partly because of this, there are some very violent moments which are perhaps excessive.
The young actors are the stars of the movie, playing the heroes and growing up fast. Even though it is a horror movie, it reminded me a lot of Stand by Me in that way. There is a lot of profanity used by these young teens which I thought was unrealistic — I was, however, corrected by my son who assured me that fourteen-year-olds do in fact talk that way when no adults are around!
The female lead, fifteen-year-old Sophia Lillis, is filled with talent and a gamine appeal and, I believe, is destined to become a very successful actor. There is a scene in It that is quite reminiscent of Carrie, the movie that made Sissy Spacek a household name.
All in all, this film is a rollicking good time if you’re in the mood to experience a solid two-and-a-quarter-hour scare. And because in real life it’s pretty hard to believe that an evil clown might be coming for us, the scare factor is pretty much limited to the duration of the movie itself.
(Poster and movie stills from IMDb)