Shot with meticulous craftsmanship, boasting with camp classic 80’s horror scare tactics that never get old, Andrés Muschietti’s It (2017) proves that adaptations and horror films are still in the game for cinematic marvel.
Set in the late 1980s, It follows the story of a quiet suburban town haunted by an eerie entity in a form of a ghostly clown who calls himself Pennywise, and every 27 years, it feeds himself with the fears of unknowing, helpless children.
The biggest theme of the film is the concept of reality versus fantasy, caused by fear, paranoia, or occasionally by even deeper elements of post-traumatic stress, almost hallucinogenic, which distorts one’s perception of what’s real and what’s not. Keep in mind that this is a film in which the cast is mostly composed of young adult actors below the age of 18, thus the perspective majorly relies on them. The film also discusses certain politically taboo, yet relevant issues such as pedophilia, incest, patricide, child abduction, and teenage violence (bullying is an understatement). That being said, these issues faced by the children are presented in the film in two ways: 1) in the eyes of an adult; and 2) in the eyes of a child.
For every child facing the above-mentioned circumstances, in their own psyche that’s spotless from the heavy-handedness of these crimes, it’s just another horror episode; hence, the presence of It. The clown represents that magic realism element of the life issues every child in the film is being threatened of. In reality, they are almost too young to comprehend the darkness of these crimes, that is why the figment of their minds have created this monstrous character. It loves fearful children in which he can easily manipulate: the concept of child abduction by luring kids with red hot balloons that represent celebratory fun and happiness — exactly what a child is vulnerable of. In the eyes of the children, everything is a big adventure, and oftentimes exaggerated. It isn’t even about Pennywise alone; they all had their versions of fear and evil that exist exclusively for them. Moreover, notice how Richie’s (Finn Wolfhard) paranoia was fed when he saw a poster of himself missing, wherein in reality, he’s not missing at all? That’s an example of how a child’s perspective can be so boisterous, that it plays with them several steps ahead in comparison to what the present event actually is. On the other hand, in the adult’s perspective (e.g. parents, police officers, detectives, etc.), it’s yet another crime of child abduction that their town fears; the reality is, pedophiles and sociopaths are out there, present and hunting for children — exactly the metaphor as to why the kids are the only ones who can see everything It does. The version of how adults see things are completely different as to how young children do. That being said, the ultimate question is: which sequence is real? The adult’s or the child’s? That’ll remain unanswered and it is left for the audience to see which version they want to lean on.
On a technical aspect, the art direction of the film is to die for. The director’s use of bland, sepia colors of mostly murky browns, greens and beiges completely contrast the aesthetic festivity of the colors that Pennywise has. It establishes two things: 1) how mundane suburbia is, and 2) how monochromatic the adult world is. Given that particular establishment, naturally, a child’s mind escapes from that box. For every scene that a luminous, red hot balloon appears, a child is lured. For a kid who lives in a world of dullness, comes along the vivid colors of It, has always been the first step in fishing these children for abduction: feeding their vision, and giving them what they want to see before it unravels the horrors underneath that coy, sugary facade. The art direction gave all those layers of reality versus fantasy and adult versus child perspective in a mega-synthesis of popcorn fun, atmospheric direction and figurative language.
Bill Skarsgård’s performance as Pennywise is deliciously delirious, it’s everything you could ever hope for in a horror film remake. Skarsgård’s Pennywise is parallel to Heath Ledger’s Joker — not only it won’t disappoint, but it also gives you a brand new perspective of a classic character you thought you already knew. He’s bizarre, eerie, and that wicked laughter is just the glittery touch the film needs.
It makes sense how It remains a neutral pronoun; relatively unknown, and ultimately mysterious. That being said, it’s one thing to have a veil of mystery wrapped around a character, and it’s another thing to be empty. That exactly is my biggest issue with the film. It, the clown whose screen presence haunts you, ultimately feels void. Pennywise is an empty characterization. Who is It? What is It? It was thinly established in all of its back stories, as if gambling an assumption towards what the viewers are knowledgeable of. Now, I am speaking from a defamiliarized audience’s point of view, who has not read the novel or could hardly remember the original miniseries— the character history of It requires familiarization to the original source; otherwise, it’ll feel like a one dimensional, self-referential villainous act.
At the end of the day, It delivers what an adaptation should justify, and what horror films should offer. The direction is visionary; the editing has a blistering effect, milking every moment — no scene felt unnecessary; a screenplay written with an engaging emotional core; a cast ensemble of promising young actors; and an iconic villain whose screen presence will cling in audience’s heads for a long time. This is one of 2017’s best in cinema.