Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that IT dropped last weekend and has absolutely been killing the box office (pun probably intended). There has been a multitude of praises showered upon the movie (most of which I agree with––my review is forthcoming; I want to see it again before reviewing!), but, of course, there have also been some critiques. The most interesting “critique” and, perhaps, the most frustrating, is the notion that IT isn’t a horror movie.
You can probably tell by my use of scare quotes that I highly disagree with this. I’m a bit biased, because I did love this film, and I wish nothing but wild success for the kids of this movie and Bill Skarsgard––who nails Pennywise. But, again, my formal review is forthcoming.
I concede to the fact that the movie does spend a long time building the relationships between the Losers Club. But, they had to do this, otherwise why would the audience care or root for these twelve-year old kids? The strengths of this story hinges entirely on the Losers Club. They are the most important piece. Without this strength, the story just isn’t successful.
That all said, IT is about a monstrous “clown” (Pennywise is actually the embodiment of fear itself and chooses its form based on the victim’s fear, but he’s mainly a clown in this movie) that hunts and slaughters children. The movie opens (spoilers?) with Georgie, a six-year old boy, getting his arm bitten off, bleeding into the street, screaming wildly for help before Pennywise drags him into the sewer. The movie doesn’t shy away from showing this young boy in pain, dying. This opening scene could be the definition of horrific alone.
But, where IT shines is not in its supernatural monstrosity––both the movie and the novel–-but in its concern and reflection on the true monsters of the text: humans. In Derry, children shout and scream for help, to no avail. They find themselves ignored by the adults around them. Or, in the case of Beverly, assaulted by them. Pennywise, in part, is so successful at drawing in children because the adults don’t do anything about it. They put up ‘missing’ signs and then just forget until the cycle repeats itself. The Losers Club learns, at a young age, that they can’t rely on the adults around them. They have to find and kill Pennywise themselves. Throughout the movie, various kids repeat the phrase “but it’s supposed to be summer break; we should be having fun.” But, they’re not. They’re terrified, and alone, and the ignorance or maltreatment from the adults is reinforced each time the audience is reminded that these kids aren’t able to act as kids should. There’s been a loss of innocence.
Now, I would agree with the statement that IT isn’t a terrifying movie. I wasn’t really scared. I was creeped out, because there are plenty of disturbing images, but I never felt truly frightened. That’s an entirely personal reaction though. As I like to joke, I’m dead inside, so naturally I didn’t get scared. (I’ve earned many a metaphorical gold star from Last Podcast on the Left). Some folks were terrified, though. I don’t think you can label a movie as “not horror” just because you, personally, don’t find it horrific.
Again, this movie is about a killer clown. How can you not consider it horror? Granted, this is being said at the same time that some folks are deciding that we’re living in a “post horror” era. Another statement that I don’t buy––just because a movie doesn’t have gratuitous blood or a chainsaw wielding maniac who likes to wear people’s faces, doesn’t mean it isn’t horror. There are other horrific things in this world, like the fact that it’s 2017 and people are still being shot for the color of their skin.
This has been a long enough rant, but I figure I should probably post some of the qualities that I look for when I’m watching a horror movie, seeing as how the title of this post is “Defining horror.”
- Some sort of supernatural (or sci-fi) entity. The devil, evil fairies, ghosts, killer clowns.
- Invasion (a la The Strangers, The Purge, etc)
- Gratuitous violence and/or nudity
- A haunted object
- A pushing past some sort of boundary, usually to the extreme (biting off a child’s arm and dragging him into a sewer, perhaps?)
- Abandoned houses, asylums, etc
- Blasphemy–-though this closely aligns with #5
There’s probably more, but that’s what I can think of right now.
What do you think? I’d love to know. I’m hoping to see IT again within the next week, so I can get my review out. I will say this: go see it in the movie theatres. It’s a fantastic film, and it’s so funny. I highly, highly recommend it.
Until next time, stay scary.