A Horror Newbie Gives the Genre a Chance With ‘It’

Stephen King's IT Featurette

The First Boss

Enter It.

I had some idea of what to expect of It going in. Inundated with ads and trailers for It, I was prepared for the horrifying, stalking, creepy clown — though luckily I have no innate trauma surrounding clowns — and for a dejected, grim commentary on the dark underpinnings of suburbia. What I didn’t expect was to be so charmed.

The seven kids of the Losers’ Club are the emotional core of the film, brilliantly portrayed by child actors Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Wyatt Oleff. Not once does the movie waiver from keeping them at the center of the film, with the adult characters rarely getting lines and — under the influence of Pennywise — coming off as heightened versions of children’s perceptions of adults: unfeeling, harsh, and uncompromising.

It remarkably balances the act of being a standard horror film within a coming-of-age story. But the two aspects of the movie are inseparable, which makes It so powerful: The film uses horror as an allegory for the shortcomings of adulthood and fears surrounding the uncertainty of growing up. Loss of innocence themes are replete throughout It, as are the odes to childhood wonder that Stephen King had perfected in “The Body” (the short story basis for Stand By Me). What astonished me was that the horror elements, rather than distracting me from the coming-of-age story, only served to invigorate a beloved genre to me. The tribulations that the Losers’ Club went through as they grappled with their budding maturity and small-town apathy were only made more potent through the lens of horror.

It does fall victim to some of the stumbling blocks of horror films, mainly in its treatment of Beverly, the lone female character in the Losers’ Club. She is frequently defined by her feminine features — her fears with the bloody bathroom extending to her “becoming a woman” and lusted after by her own father. The implication that she was sexually abused by her father only serves the frequently and poorly used trope of having a female character’s defining emotional development being informed by sexual trauma. While the infamous child sex scene from the novel was thankfully cut from the movie, Beverly is still portrayed in a singularly sexual manner —  first by being the object of the boys’ desires, then by that sinister flirting scene with the pharmacist. And though Beverly is the first to take a swing at Pennywise, she is also relegated to damsel in distress — a plot point, along with the creepy pharmacist scene, that was not included in the original Cary Fukunaga script. The stumbles with Beverly’s character were not enough to pull me out of the movie, but it did serve to remind me that horror is a genre that still isn’t explicitly made for me.

It Bev

Final Thoughts

Pennywise may not be a literal “monster as metaphor” as many of the demons on Buffy the Vampire Slayer were, but It acted a perfect stepping stone for me to explore my fascination with deeper meanings behind horror tropes.

I still get little enjoyment from the actual act of being scared by films, but horror offers such a wellspring of story and commentary that I find myself being drawn more and more to the genre. And shockingly, It didn’t scare me as much as I expected. While I was appropriately jumpy during the film, I wasn’t left with an overwhelming sense of dread that horror films usually give me. It tapped into my own fears growing up in a suburban cul-de-sac: the dilapidated storage room in the basement, the lazy wandering around storm pipes, the uncertainty of what would happen once this childhood bubble burst.

But I still felt a strangely warm feeling of accomplishment. Perhaps because I got to see the coming-of-age movie rendered anew, or perhaps because I got through an entire horror movie without walking out (I braved it out longer than at least five people in my theater!). Maybe it’s because I was finally giving a whole genre a chance, and opening up a whole new realm of stories and films that I had never before considered. I would still die before I see the Halloween reboot, though.

Next up: Hoai-Tran goes back to basics with a silent horror double feature, Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein.

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