“I’ll take him. I’ll take all of you! And I’ll feast on your flesh as I feed on your fear. Or…you’ll just leave us be. I will take him, only him, and then I will have my long rest, and you will all live to grow and thrive and lead happy lives…until old age takes you back to the weeds” – Bill Skarsgård, It (2017)
September 8, 2017. Sometime after dark.
Two seats remained. To my and my friend’s luck after a delayed departure and the longest line I had ever seen at the Athena Grand, the seats were in front of the platform for the second level and on the foot traffic floor. No one was directly in front of us, and we had a complete view of the screen. I had my Icee, small popcorn, and fruity candy in hand (all that and my ticket for $14; I miss that theater). After a stressful evening leading up to a night I had been looking forward to for years, the scene turned out perfect.
The lights went down. As the excitement in the theater shot up across the packed rows, something occurred to me: It (dir. Andy Muschietti) was the first horror movie I had ever watched in a theater. I had no control over the light or volume, no pillows to hide behind, no comforts of home to help me disconnect temporarily from the horrors onscreen. Now more nervous than ever, I decided my only option was to sit back and experience it. What followed was a horror film experience I would never forget.
The story begins with Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Martell) preparing a paper boat for his younger brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) to play with in the rain in the small town of Derry, Maine. Georgie dons a yellow raincoat and chases his boat down the street as it rides a rushing current of water. A few streets down, the boat falls into a storm drain. Worried that his brother will be angry with him for losing the boat, Georgie kneels next to the storm drain to look for it inside. He comes face-to-face with a clown, who holds the boat in a white-gloved hand. Georgie eventually becomes comfortable with the clown, who introduces himself as Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård). When Georgie starts to leave, Pennywise persuades him to take his boat home to Bill. As Georgie reaches toward the boat, Pennywise’s jaws extend into rows of jagged teeth. He bites down on Georgie’s arm, ripping it off. Georgie tries to get away, but Pennywise pulls him into the sewer with him.
The story jumps to the following summer (July 1989). Bill and his family still mourn heavily for the loss of Georgie. Bill is convinced that Georgie has gone missing (like many other children in Derry), and he is determined to figure out the truth where others have given up. We meet the other members of the Losers Club (as they name themselves later in the movie): Richie, Eddie, Stan, Mike, Beverly, and Ben. Each of the friends is a target of bullying, abuse, or trauma. To make matters worse, none of the adults in Derry intervene to help. As their shared experiences bring them together, a dark force lurks below the streets of Derry and brings their nightmares to life.
As time goes on, the kids each encounter It on their own. Pennywise takes the form of what currently scares the children the most. Pennywise even conjures an image of Georgie in his raincoat to torment Bill. Pennywise’s goal is to feed on children before he returns to another 27-year slumber, a pattern that has repeated in Derry since before the town was founded. He enjoys consuming the fear of his victims while he feasts, which is why he makes an effort to thoroughly scare them. Unlike Pennywise’s other young victims, the Losers get away alive. The friends eventually share their experiences with each other and what they saw when Pennywise came to them. They soon agree that they must take matters into their own hands and stop Derry’s curse before more victims are claimed.
When I first saw It in theaters, it was one of the scariest movies I had ever seen. I lived in my beloved college town of Athens, Ohio when this movie was released. I remember the excitement felt by my fellow horror and film lovers on campus as the leaves began to curl and red balloons popped up around the uptown shops. I have yet to encounter another movie as highly-anticipated and connective among fellow audience members.
I want to take a moment to acknowledge our reigning Pennywise: Bill Skarsgård. I did not picture a 20-something Swedish actor for Pennywise when I heard they were planning a theatrical adaptation of It, but I was floored by the outcome. Skarsgård is aware not only of how he chillingly delivers his lines, but he also remains aware of his body onscreen. From Pennywise’s odd and fluid movements, to the drooling (which I think is brilliant in this context), to the use of his real-life lazy eye, there is so much to take in with this performance. Do not ask me to choose between him and Tim Curry; I’m just saying there is a lot to applaud in this portrayal of our favorite sewer-dwelling clown.
Something big this adaptation accomplished was the essence that makes the book so terrifying. The real horror with which everyone can connect is what the children experience in their daily lives: bullying, abuse, neglect, apathy, and powerlessness. One of Pennywise’s abilities is to affect the consciousness or emotions of others, and he uses that ability to blind the adults to the turmoil the children of Derry face. He uses this to isolate his favorite victims and devour them. Furthermore, the adults do not bother looking for answers afterward. So…when the Losers Club not only escape him but set out to destroy him, Pennywise realizes he finally has an adversary.
I may wax lyrical about horror films more than necessary, but it is sincere. It was the first Stephen King book I ever read (at fourteen years old), and I have read almost all of his books since then. King’s work has inspired me to be a novelist because I have the passion for stories and voices that he delivers in his work. It not only introduced me to a world of horror literature that changed my life, but it also became a story shared and enjoyed time and time again with family, friends, and people I encounter in my library career. I never thought I would have so many wonderful memories associated with a story about a demonic clown from outer space, but here we are.
Until next time,