I am not a horror fan. The jump scares, paranormal events and downright creepy characters are all things I can live without in my life. So, when I found myself sitting in a Marcus Point Cinema theater about to watch “It,” I didn’t know what to expect from the two-plus hours to come. After the credits finally rolled, though, I can say that “It” might be the exception to my horror genre aversion.
The film, directed by Andy Muschietti and based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, follows Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) and his group of misfit friends called “The Losers Club” as they face off against Pennywise the Dancing Clown/It (Bill Skarsgård), a demonic entity that emerges from the sewers every 27 years to terrorize their small town in Maine, forcing the kids to confront their greatest fears in the process. When Pennywise first appears on-screen, I didn’t immediately buy him as the frightening, evil force he’s being sold as; his voice is high-pitched and the clown makeup makes him seem almost silly as he talks to one of the characters in the opening sequence. However, as the story unfolds and Pennywise’s true terror begins to reign over the town, it becomes clear that this is not the circus clown you want to mess with. In particular, the scene hinted at in the first trailer where the Losers use a projector is as unexpected as it is terrifying — making me literally jump out of my seat.
What invested me in the film, however, was not the demonic clown, but the Losers who try to defeat It. “It” is just as much a coming-of-age story as it is a horror story — which, conversely, is one of my favorite genres. The film focuses almost exclusively on the Losers; Muschietti takes time to set up each kid’s personal struggles as well as their friendship dynamic, giving them real reasons to want to face It and protect one another. Their chemistry and dialogue feel natural and realistic, invoking nostalgia for what it was like to be a kid trying to find your place in the world. Finding competent, let alone talented, child actors is no simple feat, but somehow the film’s casting director assembled a group of kids who can both hold and command the screen. In particular, Jaeden Lieberher’s performance as Bill, the shy, stuttering leader of the group, stands out, as does Sophia Lillis’ portrayal of Beverly Marsh, the only girl in the Losers’ Club. Finn Wolfhard, of “Stranger Things” fame, provides comic relief as Richie Tozier, giving the film levity between fear-inducing scenes.
The technical elements of “It” also add to the film’s appeal. The way Muschietti films this movie gives it a dream-like quality, visually blurring the lines between reality and nightmare — a key theme running throughout the film. He further emphasizes this feeling through use of a wide-angle camera lens, bending the corners of the frame and exaggerating the features of the characters. The CGI on Pennywise and his hellish abilities are wisely used sparingly, heightening the terror without lingering on the artificial nature of the special effects.
There is much to admire about “It,” but I do have a few minor critiques, the biggest being that throughout the film, I found myself laughing at parts of it more so than being frightened by it because some of Pennywise’s actions were a bit ridiculous. For someone who doesn’t like horror movies, that’s not necessarily a bad thing because I was able to enjoy the viewing experience more — and it’s possible I may have been nervous laughing to keep from being scared — but the film does not maintain a constant thread of tension to heighten suspense and fear. While “It” does set up all of its characters, the sheer number of kids in the Losers’ Club makes it difficult to give them all adequate screen-time, so some of them feel underdeveloped by the end of it in favor of characters like Bill and Beverly. Muschietti also chooses to use canted angle shots — tilting the camera so everything in the frame looks slanted and ominous — which I found a little annoying and tropey for a horror flick.
I went into the theater with a higher level of anxiety than I normally would have when seeing a movie, and unsure of how I would react to the film, but “It,” in spite of its premise, won me over. The story, as character-driven as it is creepy, continuously fascinated me, investing me in the Losers and rooting for them to make it out alive. I wasn’t expecting to like the film as much as I did, but this is one horror flick I’m glad I was “brave” enough to experience. In the words of the film, I think if you see it, “You’ll float too.”