It’s real – IT serves up adolescent dread drizzled with mind-numbing horror. What’s scarier than growing up?
With the initial announcement of the remake/reboot in 2009, there were rumblings deeply against the idea. The problem wasn’t so much that the movie was being remade – the original 1990 miniseries, while great, had a lot of cracks and shortcomings. IT deserved a fresh take. The problem at the time was that IT would be just another fish in a sea of big budget edgy and dark remakes and another sign of the extreme dearth of ideas in Hollywood. That project fell through in the end and IT changed hands a few more times, inspired a spiritual successor in the form of Stranger Things, and languished in Development Hell…until finally, the finished project directed by Andy Muschietti, released on September 8th, 2017.
I was quickly converted by this streamlined and faithful adaptation of the Stephen King classic. IT successfully intertwines the pain of going through youth with the terror of an ancient, cosmic horror shaped like a clown. Yes, there are plenty of over-the-top jump scares not for the faint of heart (especially if you like IMAX) but it becomes obvious that’s the point. A pinch of tasty terror makes a better meal, and Pennywise is going all out to scare these kids even as they increasingly resist him. The duology format grants Muschietti plenty of time to set the stage for the viewer. His direction gives context to all the kids’ fears and where they stem from, sets up a proper backstory for the doom that comes to Derry, and foreshadows a lot of events for the sequel. That being said, their initial defeat of Pennywise is nothing but sweet victory.
One of the highlights of this adaptation for me was finally getting some proper character development for The Losers’ Club, something I felt was missing from the 1990 miniseries. Their bond feels more real and it’s genuinely upsetting when they split. Yet somehow, I felt like it was the one thing that could have been stretched a little more. Poor Mike was kind of washed over again despite becoming very important to the plot later on, although I’m glad the movie didn’t zoom in on the town’s racism towards his family while still alluding to it. And there’s one more thing that stuck in my craw even while Pennywise was scaring me half to death: the new and improved romance subplot between Beverly, Billy, and Ben.
The saga with Ben, Beverly, and Billy has always been a little weird to me. It just seemed mighty convenient that Beverly happens to be every teenage boy’s dream and a representation of moving away from childhood. At least in this movie it’s given a little more context. Beverly is pretty, tomboyish, and broken due to her abusive home life. Her mother is out of the picture. She’s rumored to be the town tart and has unwanted advances lobbed at her by most of the men and boys we see on screen, including her own father. She is a girl afraid of her own maturing body. Ironically, she ends up with a group of boys for best friends and while it’s clear that the boys all have a crush on her, they give her something that no one else in the town has: space and the freedom to choose whoever she wants. Cue the love triangle.
Beverly has a meet cute with fellow Loser Ben early on in the movie. Ben is sensitive and bookish, somewhat withdrawn from bullying over his weight and status as The New Kid. He’s one of the first kids we see that doesn’t attack Beverly and one of the few males on screen that likes Beverly but doesn’t leer after her. She gets to tease him about his New Kids on the Block fandom and they make puns together. He even indulges in overwrought poetry for her! Their chemistry goes further when Ben is busted up by Henry Bowers and his gang and Beverly helps care for him. Finally, Ben reveals one more thing they have in common: they both want to get far away from Derry.
We see all they have in common…and then comes Billy. In a few soft glances, Ben knows he’s been outclassed. I decry this injustice because it kind of comes out of nowhere and resolves almost just as anticlimactically. Young crushes are irrational but this one sends a weird message about image and presentation and who gets to get the (only) girl in the end. While giving sideways glances at Ben, Bev chooses relative stranger Billy. Don’t get me wrong, Billy gets a boost from his original miniseries incarnation and even his book counterpart. He is a child that has suffered greatly and just as the adults of Derry can’t see or choose not to see It, Billy’s parents treat him as invisible after his brother Georgie’s disappearance. He has to cope with the grief on his own and channels this into beating Pennywise at all costs. In fact, he’s so linked to Georgie and revenge that it’s a mystery he even has time for girls. His crush on Bev serves to remind the viewer that he’s still a normal kid but it seems like that’s all it does. Even with that, I found that Billy still came off a little too Everyman. What’s worse, he embodied most of the same characteristics that Ben has, just in a better, more conventional and not fat package I guess? Ben handled the rejection with grace, I will not!
IT teaches us nothing if not that the end of childhood is messy and ugly. It gets grim, scary, intimidating, and that’s even before the monster clown shows up and feeds on your fear and destroys all your dreams. But you never lose your hope and wonder, just like how I will never lose hope that my ship will arrive in the surely emotionally devastating chapter two. Justice for Team Ben!