I’m not a big Stephen King fan. I never read It (or any other King novel, not all the way through anyway) , never saw the original miniseries, wasn’t avidly anticipating the new film adaptation.
When I read The Stranger's review, by Erik Henriksen, my expectations (to wit: yeah yeah yeah, scary magic clown killing kids in their dreams or whatever, big deal) were confirmed and I decided that I’d be perfectly fine skipping It.
But then I found myself sitting in the second row center of the Cinerama last night at 10:30, gripping my gf’s arm till my hand went numb, my stomach muscles clenched till they cramped, my teeth slammed tight in a permanent wince, unintentional vocalizations of startled fear and premonitory dread escaping my throat every few minutes, aghast at how overpoweringly scary the film is.
I mean properly terrifying. I mean nightmares and looking over your shoulder all night afterwards. I mean like when the thought occurs to you that you might not be able to stay in the theater if they keep it up.
(And, point of order: I’m not a big adherent of the scary clown thing. Not that I love clowns, but saying you’re scared of clowns is sort of the new saying you love bacon or objecting to the word “moist”—just a predigested personality trait made available to people who can’t come up with their own.)
But this clown, Pennywise? Holy god. The look, the voice, the eyes, the teeth, the physicalization, the way he charges—every element of that is perfectly, purely, primally terrifying. And again, as a not-very-big fan of Stephen King, I must confess that the conceit of the story, which positions the clown as a kind of shapeshifting embodiment of the anxieties of a group of dorky young teens, who have only each other to rely on, had unexpected resonance.
Or maybe it was just very effective genre construction. I don’t trust my judgment on that yet. I was just remembering the other day about how life under George W. Bush was stultifying enough to make an album like Green Day’s American Idiot feel like a bold political gesture. So, yeah, hard to say. But the kids (one of whom is also one of the kids from Stranger Things—which clearly owes a LOT to this story) really rang true in a way movie kids seldom do. And the sense of a world in which you’re surrounded by peril on one side and total indifference on the other? Yeah, FAMILIAR.
In sum, all I mean to say is that I must disagree with my learned colleague Erik Henriksen and tell you that if you’re even remotely susceptible to the charms of horror films (the only fiction visceral enough to tap the vein of what it’s like to be alive in 2017, it increasingly seems), and have even the dimmest memory of life in the suburbs of the Reagan era, you should absolutely scrap your weekend plans and go see It, which is brilliantly designed, perfectly cast, surprisingly funny, interestingly observed, and rich in cinematic invention (i.e. not just a bunch of CGI spiders or whatever).
I don’t know if it’s important or not, and I don’t know if it even matters. I do know that it’s one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen.