In Derry, Maine, former home of the Iron Works and The Black Spot, home of the Quarry, the Barrens, and the Standpipe, kids find their summer vacations abbreviated with curfews and terror as friends and classmates go missing. Derry is also the nest of IT (2017). The year is 1989, and it’s done hibernating.
Things are off in Derry – and when told from the vantage of 7 kids in a self-dubbed Losers Club, they feel the oppressive off every day. Bill (Jaeden Lieberher, Book of Henry) has a terrible stutter and his younger brother is missing, Eddie’s (Jack Dylan Grazer) mom has instilled in her son an encyclopedic fear of germs and sickness, Stan (Wyatt Oleff) is Jewish, Mike (Chosen Jacobs) is homeschooled and Black, Beverly (Sophia Lillis) is pretty but poor and therefore is rumored to sleep around, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is fat, Trashmouth Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard, Stranger Things) has verbal diarrhea. All of these things make them targets not just from their peers, but from society in general. They’re just kids, after all, and therefore invisible in the greater world, unless they’re making trouble or a nuisance – or missing.
Local bullies Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), Belch Higgens and Patrick Hockstetter live to torture, and not just the toilet swirlies and atomic wedgies. They’re the cruel, hurting kind, with aerosol flame throwers and knives for carving names into bellies. They’re the pathologically mean kind that eventually spends time in Juniper Hill asylum because the voices they hear advocate murder.
While the Losers are running from beatdowns and permanent scars, they’re also piecing together Derry’s history, the cycle of disappearances, and the sheer number of children who are never seen again. It’s not something that goes in a book report or civics lesson because no one wants to remember it.
Jokes about clown phobias (and I think they’re mostly bullshit because it’s fashionable to hate clowns) aside, Bill Skarsgård is as far away from Tim Curry as you could get. Tim Curry’s Pennywise hurt you for fun, a bully you could never tattle on. Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise hurts you because you’re food and the fear makes you taste better. The first thing you notice about this Pennywise is that IT’s eyes never line up. You’ll see him a lot – because children see the boogeyman everywhere. IT’s never not in the corner of your eye. IT’s never not lurking in the shadows. There is a scene in the Library where Ben is flipping through a book of the history of Derry. In all of the longshots, the Librarian is behind him, a few tables over, hunched over and just out of focus, staring him down with a look of ravenous, gleeful anticipation.
While IT is looking at whatever child IT’s tormenting, IT’s also looking at you. Always looking at you.
Look, if there are specific things you are looking for, you may not get them. The time frame from the book is shifted from 1958, but that doesn’t take away from a mostly carefree, small town lifestyle. I can think of at least two things I was hoping to see, and the dice just didn’t fall that way. That, however, doesn’t take away from how sweeping and complete Chapter One (you read that correctly) is. You know who you’re dealing with, their weaknesses and how they fit into the larger picture. Come Chapter Two (rumored to be in 2019), we’ll be able to hop right into the adult-sized scares.
This movie is not for people who have an issue with kids being hurt or eaten or mauled or maimed. This movie is a Hard R and not just for the fact that 13-year old Richie Tozier cannot keep the f*bomb from falling out of his mouth. There are scenes of intense violence, viscous fluids vomiting from drains, and kids put in perilous situations that are terrifying as adults to watch them endure. Nothing about any of this is comfortable. Nicolas Hamilton’s Henry Bowers is a chilling portrayal of a child teetering on the edge of a spree killing, and Georgie’s (Jackson Robert Scott) big eyes and pleas to just go home sting your soul.
All of these kids make this movie feel real and that’s why it works. We’re taken right down to their level and reminded exactly how helpless kids are, and despite what we want to believe, childhood is sometimes fatal.
IT has humor in the way that kids are funny – they rip on each other, they are frank and honest and hold nothing back. They need each other to be direct because they can’t afford to sugar coat what they’re facing. You’re laughing with them. To not enjoy the brief moments of pure childhood they have is another kind of cruelty, and you’re not that person.
IT is rated R for lots of swears, brutal violence against children, minor body horror, lots and lots of blood,