Until recently, I wouldn’t have considered myself a horror movie person by any stretch of the imagination, but I have been improving my horror education. I decided to watch the original 1990 It movie which came out this weekend in preparation for the the new one, which I greatly enjoyed—well, for the most part. Let’s face it: Stephen King isn’t exactly known for his stellar endings and the original It was no exception. The movie might even be the most infamous of Stephen King’s bad endings. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the movie and Tim Curry’s performance of the menacing clown Pennywise. With that in mind, I was excited and anxious about the new film. It is pretty much considered a horror movie classic at this point and remakes don’t always live up to the original, but the trailers looked good and so I entered the theater with high hopes. While the movie was excellent, scary, and extremely well made, I was a little disappointed, but not surprised, by the lack of representation. Just a fair warning, I have not read the book so I am entering into this critique not knowing the original source material, only the movies.
Spoilers for the new It movie ahead, and some for the original as well. Also warnings for mentions of sexual assault and child abuse.
The story is set in a town called Derry, where a small group of outcast kids start seeing horrible visions of the things that scare them the most. More often than not, the thing they
see appears as a menacing clown which calls itself Pennywise. The story begins when main character Bill Denbrough’s little brother Georgie goes missing. Or at least Bill thinks he has gone missing. In reality he was Pennywise’s first victim. As more and more children start to disappear, Bill and his friends begin to wonder what is going on. Eventually, his friend Ben, the new kid in town who had yet to make any friends, started researching Derry just for something to do. This comes in handy when he reveals to Bill and his other new friends that there is something wrong with the town. He says,
“Derry is not like any town I’ve been in before. People die or disappear, six times the national average. And that’s just grown ups. Kids are worse. Way, way worse.”
Why does anyone live in these horror movie towns? You’d think after so many years of weird, creepy shit, people would just abandon the town. I digress. Anyway, eventually the kids feel comfortable enough to tell each other about the clown (and other creepy visions) they have seen. They learn that this has been happening for one year every twenty-seven years and the adults in town seem like they either can’t or won’t acknowledge what is actually going on. Eventually the kids decide to face Pennywise themselves and go into the sewers to fight him, leading to an epic and terrifying showdown.
Overall, the movie was great. It managed to capture the horror without remaking the original movie shot for shot. The only two scenes that were really replicated at all were Pennywise and Georgie’s scene in the storm drain at the beginning, and the blood coming out of Beverly’s sink and her father not being able to see it. I was especially glad that the movie didn’t try to recreate the gym shower scene from the original where Pennywise climbs up out of the drain, as that was probably one of the most iconic scenes from the original movie and definitely couldn’t be improved on. Furthermore, recreating the scenes too much would have diminished any of the scares the movie was trying to produce for those who have already seen the original. Instead, the movie allows itself to be similar but different and creates some truly terrifying scenes. I also liked how we saw Pennywise take different forms based on what the kids were afraid of. In the original, this only happened once or twice, but in the new movie all of the kids see different horrifying figures as well as Pennywise. This really adds more to the idea that Pennywise is preying off the kids’ fear.
As for Pennywise himself, I will say that I am biased towards Tim Curry’s Pennywise, though Bill Skarsgård has his own unique performance. Yet I found it hard to judge between the two. On the one hand, Tim Curry’s Pennywise is a more believable clown, like you would believe he actually walked out of a circus, which I think makes him scarier, because the clown’s outward appearance doesn’t seem sinister at first. On the other hand, Skarsgård’s clown costume looked like the stuff of nightmares, and never like he was actually ever intended to entertain kids. Both are scary in their own way, but one of the reasons it’s so hard to judge is that Skarsgård’s Pennywise benefited a lot from computerized effects to make his movements look jerky and unnatural. While that definitely makes things look scary, I felt like Skarsgård didn’t have to put as much effort into acting scary because the special effects did a lot of that for him. I’m not saying Skarsgård played the part poorly, I just felt like I didn’t get to see enough of him, unedited, playing the character.
All of the child actors in this movie were absolutely phenomenal and really brought a lot to the characters. The standouts for me were definitely Finn Wolfhard (of Stranger Things fame) as Richie and Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie. Both were absolutely hilarious and added some much needed levity to the movie. While Bill and Beverly are the main characters and were also played well, I just felt like Richie and Eddie’s characters stole the show. When I think back on moments from the movie, the scenes with those two characters are the ones I think of first.
Beverly, our only female character of note, was done well and her character arc made more sense to me in this movie than the original. Beverly is a little bit more alternative in her dress and not shy about her body or flirting, which propels the rumor that she is a “slut”, even though that’s not true. Her relationship with her father is also made more clear. In the original, her dad seemed just weirdly and creepily overprotective of her, but the new film makes it pretty explicit that Beverly’s father is sexually abusing her, or at the very least openly lusting after her. Its pretty satisfying to see Beverly stand up for herself and fight off her father when he attempts to attack her. Beverly is damseled briefly at the end of the film but is not excluded from the fight for very long. She is definitely shown to be just as capable as the boys.
I was, however, annoyed by the overall lack of representation. You would think remaking the film would give the creators an opportunity to have a more diverse cast, but that sadly was not the case. Instead, like the original, we have four white boys, one Jewish boy, one Black boy, and one female character. Stanley Uris is our Jewish character, and I will be honest and say that even in the original I was disappointed in how his character is portrayed. Though all the kids are scared to some degree and really don’t want to have to fight Pennywise, Stanley always comes off as the most cowardly. The new film keeps it pretty similar but they do give Stanley more to do. We actually see him facing his fears and fighting Pennywise with his friends. However, he is still noticeably more cowardly than his friends, and if the second part of the movie keeps true to the original, than then things only get worse for his character.
Perhaps the most upsetting portrayal, though, is that of Mike, our young Black hero. In the original I always felt that while the other characters certainly all feature heavily, Mike, Bill, and Beverly were the characters that were most focused on. In the original movie, an older Mike even narrates the story and explains what happened. Mike is also the one who does all the research on Derry and realizes the pattern on Pennywise’s killings. But in the new movie, Mike is pushed to the side. He has noticeably fewer lines than the other characters and in this version Ben is the one who does all the research on Derry, not Mike. Mike was one of my favorite characters in the original film, so I was especially disappointed to see his part cut so heavily. Maybe the Powers That Be changed this to be more in line with the book, but I don’t know if that’s the case. Either way, the movie would have been improved with Mike having a larger role. Mike is the only character of color in the movie and the fact that he had a more profound role in the original makes it feel almost deliberate. It’s as if those in charge purposefully felt it necessary to lessen the role of the only person of color. There is already a limited amount of Black characters in movies, especially in horror movies, and it would have been amazing to see Mike assume the more active role he does in the original movie.
While the representation still isn’t great, I did still enjoy the movie. However, I wish there wasn’t going to be a part two…
Again, Stephen King is not known for his endings and the second half of the original movie I found mostly boring and at the very end stupid and unsatisfying. For those that don’t know, at the end of the film it is revealed that Pennywise is actually this giant spider that is eating people. And while this creature previously couldn’t be killed without a lot of effort, our heroes, now adults, end up ripping the thing apart with their bare hands.
The whole time we have been fighting this evil clown only for the final boss fight to be against a spider. At least the new movie shows that Pennywise can change into different forms, but the original movie makes it out like the spider is its true form. Which makes very little sense to me. It’s never explained what Pennywise actually is. Is he a fear demon? Some bloodthirsty god? What? Why is it a spider at the end? Please explain! But no one explains, and the audience is just left confused. I truly hope that part two of the new movie just outright changes the ending or at least explains it more. There are hints in the movie that Pennywise is some insect-like thing. One character mentions that the whole lying dormant thing and then coming up to feed is similar to that of a cicada. And briefly at the end of the film, Pennywise’s legs look spider-like while the kids are fighting him. But there are also hints that there is more going on. Mike briefly mentions that he was told something awful happened in Derry a long time ago and so the place is cursed. There is another brief scene where we see a settler woman carrying a baby to a well. Pennywise, we know, lives in the well house in Derry. Was he abandoned and somehow became this monster, or was this a picture of a woman sacrificing her child to Pennywise for some reason?
Whatever the case, I enjoyed this movie so I really hope that the sequel fixes the ending problems that were in the original. There are so many unanswered questions tied to Pennywise and the town of Derry. If it were up to me, I would attempt to rewrite things to make Pennywise some kind of demon or some bloodthirsty deity or spirit. In the original movie and the new one, we learn that the town looked the other way at all the bad stuff that happened there, even if it wasn’t evil clown related. In the new movie, two adults drive by while a bully named Henry carves his name into Ben’s stomach. Ben calls to them for help and they still do nothing. We also learn that the local pharmacist has been helping Eddie’s mother give her son placebo pills so that she can keep telling him that he’s sick and exert more control over him. It’s also implied that this is not a secret as one of the girls in Eddie’s class knows as well.
Maybe the people of Derry know all too well what is going on and have been sacrificing people to Pennywise, especially children, in order to keep the town thriving. But eventually Pennywise’s evil influence affects the whole town so much that they ignore any malicious things or wrong doings. They could also simply be afraid that these things might be Pennywise’s will and that if they interfere they would get hurt as well. But then a group of kids defeat Pennywise and maybe because of that the town starts to do poorly and fall apart. Part two could start with our young heroes returning as adults when they hear Pennywise is back and discover that the people in Derry started sacrificing to Pennywise again to revive the town. This would mean that Bill and the rest of the original group would not only have to defeat Pennywise, but also potentially fight off others in the town.
One thing’s for sure, I hope the Powers that Be do something, otherwise we are in for a really disappointing sequel.