Before reading my full review for IT, I invite you to read my post in the essay section, On Horror, for more of my thoughts on the genre as a whole and more context on how I approach it.
Before we begin, I’d like to give you a few examples that stand out in my mind.
I listen to a band called Demon Hunter. I have been asked why I listen to a band that uses a demon skull as their emblem. My response: Look closer. The demon skull has a bullet hole in it.
I listen to a band called Oh, Sleeper. I have been asked why I listen to a metal band that uses a pentagram as their emblem. My response: Look closer. First, the pentagram (a geometric shape used to evoke a goat’s head – a traditional symbol for the devil) has been inverted. Second, the horns of the symbol have been cut off. The devil has been disempowered.
Even some of the video games that I choose to play. I have been asked why I play such games if they have demons and monsters in them. My response: Clearly, I’m not on the side of the demons. I’m fighting them.
I’m sure some would question why I would go see IT. My response: Because it’s a story about overcoming and vanquishing evil.
And that’s important.
IT, based on the Stephen King classic, is the story of Derry, Maine, and the darkness that lives there, a darkness that rears its head every twenty-seven years to abduct children and feed on their fear. It is the story of seven kids, all facing their own specific set of adversities, who are not only confronted with this darkness, but must find a way to overcome it.
If you are planning on seeing this movie, there’s something you need to understand that perhaps the advertising did not make clear. This is IT: Chapter One. This is the first half of a complete story. The first half tells the story of these characters as kids. The second half will tell the story of these characters as adults. Chapter Two is in production.
I realize that horror is not for everyone. Far from it. Horror, as I said in my post on Wednesday, can be a dangerous thing. That’s why I approach it with caution. But horror, like any genre, has virtue in what it has to say and value in what it has to teach us.
IT is certainly not for the faint of heart. And if you’re someone who has trouble with horror, I would certainly not recommend this movie to you. Some individuals are more sensitive to horror, because it deals with the supernatural and the spiritual. And that sensitivity is a good thing. I would never attempt to deride that, as I think it is quite valuable.
All that being said, director Andy Muschietti has succeeded in putting Stephen King’s book on screen. In fact, he has succeeded in putting Stephen King’s literary aura on screen, possibly more so than any other Stephen King adaptation to date. Everything from the quaint atmosphere of small-town America, the awkward, terrible, and triumphant adventures of childhood, and the quiet, simmering terror that hides behind everyday things. These are all very much trademarks of a Stephen King story, and they’re all here.
This movie would not have worked if the young actors could not pull it off. They do so effortlessly. How this movie manages to establish seven different young characters, weave them together, and make each of their individual character arcs work within the larger frame of the story is impressive. By the time the credits rolled, I felt I not only understood each of these kids, but I felt for them deeply.
Watching these young characters interact is a joy and a heartbreak and everything in between. Their friendships are beautiful and poignant and hilarious. It will make you ache for your own youth. And it will drive home a very important truth: We are so much better together than we are alone. We are so much stronger when we stand together.
But make no mistake. IT is a horror movie. And it wastes no time in letting you know that. The darkness lurking beneath the town of Derry is present from the very first scene. And over the following two hours, we come to understand that each of these kids has a very real, very valid reason to be afraid. Not only do they each have a particular fear, but that fear is intrinsic to who they are as characters, as human beings. IT does not create fear. It only exploits it. It feeds on what already exists within the hearts and minds of these characters.
That’s the tenet at the core of this film: overcoming fear and vanquishing evil. Because you need to do one in order to do the other. In the world we live in today, how can we vanquish evil if we are afraid to confront it? If we shy away from evil, how can we fight it? And that’s what this story does so well: IT shows us that we must be tough. We must face our fears. We must overcome them. We must stand against the darkness and look it in the eye. Only then will we see it for what it truly is: Powerless. Nothing.
Easier said than done. It’s easy to talk about looking the darkness in the eye. But it’s a much different thing when the darkness stands before you. IT is a horror story, and it is filled with horrors. But those horrors are never on screen to satisfy some twisted desire to display gore or disgusting things. Those horrors are depicted for very real and very important reasons. And at its heart, I think that is what I mean when I talk about tasteful horror. IT is terrifying, sometimes awe-inspiringly so. But the terror is never without a purpose.
Due to its nature, I simply cannot recommend it to everybody. But this is what I can say: IT is that rare thing that not only succeeds at being what it is – namely, a horror movie – but also succeeds at being a great film. There are certain films that transcend their genre and become a great piece of work. I think IT is one of those.
But IT also has great lessons to teach. Face your fears. Look the darkness in the eye, and defeat it. And if you need help, let’s do it together.