What made “It” a successful horror film

Image courtesy of New Line Cinemas.

It, The Stephen King story has been adapted before into a TV mini-series in the 1990s on ABC with low ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. Though the casting was said to be fantastic, the production and its special effects did not do the scary clown any justice and made the series’ pacing slow.  

The newest King adaptation was hyped up for weeks before the initial release, as clips of the disturbing clown found their way onto our timelines and newsfeeds. With an 88 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, It was definitely creepy. Watching horror films, for me, is usually just for shigs; cheesy acting and a low production can be fun to watch. Although the trailer was indeed scary and I’m a fan of Finn Wolfhard (who is also one of the stars of current Netflix horror show Stranger Things), I thought It wasn’t going to be as creepy as it was.

Every 27 years, an evil shapeshifter, this time played by Bill Skarsgård, returns to the fictional town of Derry, Maine to scare children to death by taking the form of their worst fears. His default form is a dancing clown named Pennywise.

The highlight of the film, however, is the hilarious group of children who call themselves “The Losers’ Club.” The protagonists are seven misfits and outcasts who find strength in being with each other. Each of these kids has a sad backstory. From abusive parents to being bullied at school, they also have to deal with puberty and being socially awkward around pretty girls. Being 12 years old — and I think we can all agree on this — is a horror film in itself.

Bill, played by Jaeden Lieberher, is the leader of the group. His adorable little brother goes missing after being lured into the sewers of Derry by Pennywise, whose voice is creepy yet enticing, making everything he says sound like an appealing invitation.

Also in “The Losers’ Club” there’s Richie, played by Wolfhard, whose hilarious sense of humour is grounded in puberty-related jokes. Eddie, played by Jack Dylan Grazer, is an asthmatic kid who is terrified of germs. And there’s Stanley, played by Wyatt Oleff, whose Jewish faith categorizes him as “other” in the small town of Derry.

The club soon welcomes three new members: Ben, played by Jeremy Ray Taylor, is the new kid on the block and an easy target for  bullies; Beverly, played by Sophia Lillis, wants to spend her summer away from her abusive father; and Mike, played by Chosen Jacobs, is one of the only black people in the small town that hasn’t left its old, racist ways.

The first part of King’s novel was originally set in the 1950s, but director Andy Muschietti’s version took a different, E.T.- inspired route, capturing the perfect 1980s mood. From short-shorts to mullets, the atmosphere was very similar to that of Stranger Things.

The change in setting may be a factor that added to the film’s huge success. Fans of Stranger Things were expecting the second season of the show to come out this summer, but are now forced to wait until the end of October. It conveniently came during the time fans were getting impatient, providing a great option for those who love the geeky-misfit-1980s aesthetic.

It owes its success to the incredibly talented cast of child actors whose chemistry and banter was straight up entertaining. The emotion they brought to a film that I thought was going to be a simple horror film added a fresh and chilling intensity to the Pennywise scenes.

The movie felt more entertaining than it did terrifying, and this could be due to the source material: A small-town adventure film is filled with the kids’ hormones and one-liners. I felt sympathy for the kids and was attracted to their stories.

Although marketed under the genre of horror, It is a coming-of-age story. What could have been a typical horror film flop, It’s success was a surprise to many. While the film contains many horror conventions, the story revolves around a group of outcasts riding around town on their bikes and banding together to face their fears.