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Sit through a horror film with your eyes squeezed shut, and you’ll still see every graphic scene in your mind as you listen to the crescendoing music, the bloodcurdling screams, the tussle of limbs, and the wet-sounding scrunch of … brains? Eyeballs? Intestines? Ugh!
Horror films leverage the imagination: You create your own worst enemy with your pre-existing fears. That’s a running theme in It, the Stephen King novel adaptation that on Sept. 8-10 smashed the North American box office record for any horror film’s opening weekend. The popular movie—deservedly rated R for violence, horror, and F-bombs—merits no recommendation, but this review will shine light on its themes.
Set in the 1980s at a small town in Maine, It projects the quaint nostalgia of movie theater marquees, New Kids on the Block jokes, and bike-beaten paths, but something dark also looms. Beyond the rose-dappled gardens, the movie hints at emotional, physical, and sexual abuse within each home.
It thus makes sense that a monster would awaken in the form of a clown—a middle-aged man who puts on wacky makeup and costume to entertain kids. This child-chomping, grinning shape-shifter (Bill Skarsgård) calls himself Pennywise (the children call him “It”) and literally feeds on children’s greatest fears. As kids in town mysteriously disappear one by one, the adults ignore what’s happening, so a group of outcast kids decides it’s up to them to uproot the town demon.
It’s not easy to condense King’s psychedelic, dictionary-sized novel into a 135-minute movie, nor is it surprising the filmmakers are working on a sequel. It the novel is dense with themes of the origin of evil, friendship and unity, and childhood trauma and abuse passed down from generation to generation. It the movie touches on all these subjects in between bloody spurts, shrieks, deranged giggles, and razor teeth. The film could have been more than a horror movie, but sticks to its genre: hair-raising scare gimmicks. In that, it succeeds a bit too well, at least for this reviewer.