There's a particularly odd moment at the end of It when Pennywise the dancing clown displays the skill of his namesake. Bill Skarsgård's off-kilter, deadpan impression of the running-man is memorable, unusual and just as weird as any of the other horror vignettes decorating the plot – it just isn't scary. But does that really matter? Horror is about the weird, the twisted, the malleable borders of the occult and the uncanny reflections of our society. So, while some horror fans may criticize It for not being scary enough, it's actually a perfect example of why a film doesn't have to scare you to be a great horror movie.
Clowning Around: The Cross-Genre Credentials of 'It'
It's a similar story for many of the frightful encounters in the film. You might have felt paralyzing dread at the sight of a sink spewing blood with overblown quasi-menstrual ferocity, but not everybody will. Some of director Andrés Muschietti's nightmare scenes are glossy with CGI, while others play out like an accidentally R-rated moment on Goosebumps. Yet that doesn't make it any less of a horrifying two hours, nor does it make it any less of a horror film. There's no metric system to score how much of a horror any horror film is, but for some there's a genuine barrier to entering the genre: it has to be terrifying to be a true horror. In that mindset, the genre itself becomes as intangible as the surreal visions that plague the Losers' Club throughout It.
That elitist point of view is endlessly problematic. Do classic horror films cease to be horrors when their dated effects stop scaring modern viewers? Of course not. Should It be considered any less horrifying because it sometimes plays out closer to a coming-of-age comedy than a supernatural scare-fest? Quite the opposite.
In fact, It works so well as a bonafide horror because it isn't pigeon-holed by constant suspense and a drive to frighten audiences rather than build characters. There are nearly as many laugh-out-loud moments as there are jump scares, with Stranger Things alum Finn Wolfhard delivering countless crass one-liners with visible glee.
What sets IT apart from other murder-frenzies is the warmth and childishness that saturates the film, from the young adult tone to the occasionally childish effects. When Eddie is pursued by an Evil Dead-esque leper (the embodiment of his mysophobia) it's not the drooling, lumpy prosthetic that carries the fear of the scene, it's a genuine concern for the child that's faced with an intensely personal fear. The oozing figure is suitably weird, but it doesn't push the boundaries of terrifying practical effects. It's actually a little bit funny, but the terror that actor Dennis Christopher brings to the scene is utterly convincing, and that is what sets It apart from other contemporary horror movies. This is arguably director Andrés Muschietti's greatest achievement with this inter-dimensional slaughter story, which features almost every traditional phobia you can think of.
Each of these talented child actors navigated their respective personal nightmares in a completely believable manner, so when Wyatt Oleff's Stanley is pursued by the woman from a surreal portrait, we don't want to laugh at the overdose of CGI. Instead, we're more concerned about his survival. That wouldn't work without the quiet moments, the funny moments and the slightly awkward coming-of-age moments that makes this movie seem almost too-highly certified for its actual target audience. In an interview with Den of Geek, the director claimed,
"I mean, I didn't make this movie for children. In fact, what allowed me to be faithful to the intensity of the book is that it's R-rated. So supposedly no children have to see this movie, but..."
He discussed his love of horror movies as a fond yet terrifying childhood memory and how his direction for It was a quest to recapture some of those emotions, even though,
"you never get to relive those feelings again because you’re not a child anymore".
That's not to say that this movie is specifically designed to scare children. Its nostalgic tone and naive setting cleverly target older members of the audience as if trying to reawaken their childhood fears.
Have you ever been scared of an odd picture in your grandparents' hallway? Have you ever been scared of your parents? There's no reprieve for the Losers in IT. They only have each other and are set upon by all sides – whether its from the supernatural, school bullies or their own family.
Oranges And Lemons: 'It' Is Personally, Historically and Nostalgically Terrifying
Whether it's Bill facing up to his father's angry resignation over George's disappearance or Mike Hanlon pulling the trigger of a bolt gun at his grandfather's insistence, there are some brief yet gritty examples of childhood trauma on display in It. In fact, the systematic abuse of Beverly Marsh is easily the scariest thing in the movie. Her father's low voice and creepy wandering hands are genuinely chilling. Combine that with a knockout performance from Sophia Lillis (who exudes passion and heart as much when she's hacking off her hair as when she's tentatively struggling to choose a pack of tampons on her own) and you find yourself with a grizzly combination of This Is England and A Nightmare on Elm Street.
The movie is literally bleeding with supernatural horror tropes while navigating the genuinely terrifying landscape of childhood. Bullies carve gouges from bellies. Locals gloss over the violent racial history of the town. At face value, it should be one of the scariest movies ever made. Yet, by cutting out the grown-up section of Stephen King's source material, Andrés Muschietti ensured that his first installment of It would be concerned solely with childhood; from childish fears to young, formative moments. This also meant that some of the scary elements won't resonate with hardcore, adult horror audiences, to the point that some will be quick to decry It as more of a supernatural fantasy or a slightly creepy Stand By Me than an out-and-out horror. But with the biggest R-rated opening of all-time, horror fans should probably re-evaluate that perception.
Focusing on the human elements of It and drawing on other genres that King himself touched upon in his literature did the movie no harm. It might not make you jump out of your seat or keep you awake for fear of clowns and lepers, but it will chill you to your core by making your fear for the Losers. It might not scare you, but it is undeniably a bloody good horror movie.
What do you think makes a good horror movie?
[Poll Image Credit: Warner Bros] [Source: Den of Geek]