Everyone has a fear of something. Whether it’s as tangible as spiders. Or something psychological, where you wish time would simply stop so that you and the thing you fear never meet. Or it may be a moment of such disproportionate nonsensical anxiety, which in the moment keeps you rooted to the spot, yet with hindsight can seem mundane or perhaps even trivial.
Needles used to be one of mine, as merely thinking about the subject would send shivers down my spine. I can only attribute this to a combination of pain and those films where doctors stand next to the patient, with needles as long as my forearm, needlessly squirting what appeared to be half the contents across the room before casually flicking the tip. Or a memorable scene in the notoriously grotesque and convoluted ‘Saw’ franchise, where one ‘contestant’ was thrown into a pit of needles. Admittedly that scene does still give me the shivers a little.
One of my biggest fears without a doubt is Clowns. Horrible creatures represented in film as being overtly happy whilst ‘entertaining’ a crowd, yet in secret, they are depicted as mass murders, depressed alcoholics, or the stuff of nightmares. I’ve had this fear since I was small, avoiding anything even remotely connected to those things such as circus-themed parties, and TV shows and films that depict clowns. One memorable episode of the TV show ‘The Mentalist’ began with a character being chased through the woods, whilst the terrifying high-pitched laughter of a clown can be heard. Needless to say, I turned it off immediately, but image engrained itself in my mind. Though this technique of turning off the TV at the mere hint of one of those long-shoed, red-nosed, flower wearing bastards does work. It’s still an unpleasant surprise when say a character in the popular TV show ‘Modern Family’ has a habit of dressing up as one.
So why you may ask would I watch IT. A film that is famous for one reason, Pennywise, a terrifying dancing clown who eats children by hiding in the sewer. Well frankly because one does need to overcome these things at some point, so why not jump in at the deep end and confront one of the most notorious and iconic clowns of horror. Admittedly I was already becoming desensitised before I started watching the film, for American Horror Story, the popular TV show, had started a new cult/clown themed season at the same time IT was due to be released, and so both were plastered all over social media. So that despite my best efforts, I was continually exposed to the bastards, which I would actually recommend as an approach to overcoming fear.
You would also imagine that I would be a prime audience, a fear of clowns combined with a love of horror films, and although there are many aspects of this film that I thought worked incredibly well, there are problems. The film begins with Georgie and his older brother Bill as they make a boat for Georgie to sail through the monsoon like rain outside. It’s a good scene, with Georgie required to venture downstairs into the dark basement, setting an eerie tone, before donning his yellow raincoat and going off to play. Obviously, you know exactly what is coming, but the suspense is impressively drawn out to the Pennywise reveal, and I won’t lie, I did jump when those glittering yellow eyes loomed suddenly out of the dark. It’s a fantastic opening, one that ought to set the tone and pacing for the rest of the film, yet sadly it loses a little momentum when exploring the rest of its world.
The film is set in Derry, a town which seems to be largely controlled by Pennywise and his ability to make children live their fears. This power appears to have caused a great deal of unrest between the children and their parents, and whilst this seems to be deliberate on the director’s part. It’s not entirely clear whether parents are being affected by PennyWise’s presence, or the children are simply seeing what Pennywise wishes them to see. For each parent is perversely disturbing in a way that plays to their child’s fear. A supposed child molesting father to a young girl who has acquired the reputation of a slut, an overweight woman whose fear for her son coming to harm or illness means he is on the verge of suffering from germophobia, and a father who literally yells at his son that his younger brother is dead. The only child who seems largely unaffected is Finn Wolfhard’s character, whose parents are never shown.
If I have interpreted those moments correctly, then the relationship between the parents and children is very clever, and explains too the overtly violent nature of the local bullies. Yet the film wastes far too much time focusing on it, to the extent that oddly I actually began to miss the clown. For the exposure to their other horrors, such as the woman from a painting, or someone infested with a plague, quite quickly struggled to be more than cheap jump scares.
Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise is totally unrecognisable, through a combination of excellent makeup and CGI, his presence really makes this film. Though each character is good, in fact, they are far more developed than I anticipated, Skarsgard is utterly brilliant, in both costume and persona. I have seen a few of his projects, but nothing comes close to his performance here. Undeniably creepy and physically horrifying to watch as he moves, his version of Pennywise is one with depth and personality. Evidence that Skarsgard never relied solely on the outfit to induce fear, but worked on the entire character, much to the benefit of the film.
OVERALL *** Whilst this is solid horror to begin with, you do quickly becoming acclimatised to the theme of fear. Pennywise appears in exactly the right places, and Skarsgard’s performance of him is mesmerisingly good. The focus on the town and those twisted relationships is clever but overly long. I can’t help but feel a great deal of this could have been edited down to serve for a more powerful impact.
RECOMMENDATION – IT certainly helped ease my fear of clowns, though I dare say I will still jump when I see one, and I don’t have much desire to seek more clown material. But if you’re looking for a good Horror film to watch, I would certainly give this a go.