Arts and Entertainment

Coulrophobia Be Damned

“It” brings the traditional exploitation of fear to the table along with some unexpected humor and soul.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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By Israt Islam

“Do you need to be a virgin to see this [expletive deleted] clown?!” is one of many wisecracks in the highly anticipated film remake of Stephen King’s chilling novel. Directed by Andy Muschietti, “It” is an adaptation of the first chapter of King’s book of the same name, which follows a gang of ‘80s kids from the small town of Derry, Maine, as they hunt for a mysterious, terrifying, soul-eating creature that has been kidnapping children. The film is innovative in its ability to combine just the right amount of jump scares with a dose of pubescent humor, along with a curious exploitation of fear. Nobody is safe from Pennywise, the immortal, blood-curdling, psychopathic jester. “It” contains all the qualities of a standard horror film interspersed with classic elements of ‘80s nostalgia.

Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgård, emerges every 27 years to terrorize children and feeds on their fear by wolfing down their souls. The focus of the film is Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), a shy, stuttering boy on a quest to find his little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), who is kidnapped by the murderous clown. Bill blames himself and enlists his misfit friends, Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), and Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer). On their journey, they meet Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), and Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and are deemed the “Losers’ Club” by the neighborhood bullies. The group confronts Pennywise several times and discovers his horrifying shapeshifting abilities. Along with his ability to rotate his body parts in a very unhuman-like way, the clown’s head constantly morphs into that of each child’s nightmare. The clown transforms into a misshapen woman from a painting Stanley walks past in fear at the synagogue and, similarly, becomes a leper to terrorize hypochondriac Eddie on his way home.

The movie seamlessly integrates its characters’ fears into the storyline and gives each character a purpose. Some of the characters’ fears are so subtly presented that they aren’t noticeable until Pennywise embraces those fears and exploits them. Oftentimes, the most candid or tranquil moments were the ones that gave each character more backstory, such as when Mike refuses to kill lambs at his family’s farm. It doesn’t seem important at first, but the scene later becomes evidence of Mike’s fear of death and slaughter. Beverly stands out as the gutsy lone girl in the group and exudes an aura of self-confidence, but is haunted by her period and her abusive father. Eddie constantly rattles off his worries about contamination at a breakneck pace, while Richie continually digresses from the topic at hand with wisecracks and innuendos.

Of course, the ever-present villain in the film is the killer clown and its appearances throughout the plot instill terror in both the gang and the audience. Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung’s mastery of the camera is effective in making Pennywise’s screen time terrifying. Chung sweeps from frame to frame with angles that emphasize the film’s contrasting themes of terror and mellowness, including one particularly terrifying fish-eyed close-up of Pennywise getting ready to bite Eddie’s head off. Chung succeeds in making Pennywise’s appearances so random and wholly unexpected that the audience members are left falling off of their chairs in dread of the clown’s next arrival. There were many times when I covered my eyes in panic, as if that could protect me.

Keeping time with Chung is composer Benjamin Wallfish’s rich orchestral melodies and sinister nursery rhymes that punctuate the more frightening aspects of the film but also highlight moments of fun and resolution. Morbid tunes play as Ben flips through a book about Old Derry’s dark past, finally crescendoing into a fast-paced and urgent refrain that follows Ben as he runs from a headless victim of Pennywise’s attacks. The sharp jump in the music as the corpse appeared caused the entire crowd in the theatre to suck in its breath. The orchestra swells as the movie finally fades out to show the group of children reflecting on their assault of Pennywise later in the film.

In addition to the film’s ability to scare viewers, “It” also breaks standard horror film expectations. Instead of back-to-back jump scares, the movie utilizes its characters’ young ages to bring a nostalgic humor from the days when bad puberty jokes were common. Despite the dangers Pennywise poses, the kids still enjoy their summer fun and even find time for a wild rock battle with the neighborhood bully, accompanied with appropriate heavy metal music. The film even goes so far as to be meta, like when Richie is wowed by Bill not stuttering once during an impromptu speech. Though Richie’s sex jokes are sometimes a bit much, the movie tries to be unconventional by mixing the scary and the funny.

While “It” may not be the scariest movie out there, it is definitely capable of making audiences both laugh and cover their eyes in terror. The film balances themes of friendship and loyalty with recurring gore and suspense, creating a product that is as thrilling as anticipated, but also lets viewers root for the protagonists as they embark on their heroic journey. As most of us know, fear can’t be overcome overnight, so we hope to see more from the “Losers’ Club” in the future.