Oct 1 2017

Fear is scary. As scary as It


It felt like Stand By Me meets The Goonies with the scare ramped up. Stephen King knows how to write round kid characters who come off as appropriately immature and inexperienced, yet complex, thinking people. The director and actors communicated the members of the “Loser’s Club” as human beings experiencing fear, grief, and anger in a way that made their stories matter. Each one is dealing with situations that make them feel vulnerable and powerless. And these feelings are in the heart of fear whether or not that fear culminates in a confrontation with Pennywise the scary clown.

Pennywise is creepy, no doubt, and I think if I were afraid of clowns this movie might have been scarier to me. According to an article in The Smithsonian, Dickens is responsible for the sinister clown character, though his was more tragic than frightening. The fact that John Wayne Gacy was a clown cemented the the killer clown persona in the public imagination. That clown doll in Poltergeist gave rise to the evil clown trope in film. For those not suffering from coulrophobia, here’s Variety‘s pictorial list of the 20 Creepiest Clowns.

I found fear itself to be the most compellingly scary part of the movie. Flight, fight, or freeze are the typical responses to fear. Each member of the “Loser’s Club” responds in some combination of these. Bill and Beverly have faced bigger tragedies in their lives that diminish Pennywise’s capacity to frighten them merely by being a scary clown. They are the fighters. Richie is smart and funny and big on self-preservation. Stan is a skeptic. He has to be convinced any of this is real, and once he’s convinced, like Richie, he’s a runner. Eddie’s mom has turned him into a hypochondriac. He freezes. Then runs.  Ben, the poet and scholar of the club, manages his fear through understanding. He researches the history and tries to understand the facts.  Mike wants answers too. Encounters with Pennywise and Henry Bowers, the bully who torments “The Losers” brings Mike into the club. While Ben and Mike’s first choice might be to run, the more they learn the greater they feel a responsibility to fight.

The mystery surrounding Pennywise’s motives and powers heightens their fear. When something we can understand comes after us, that’s scary, but finding oneself in the crosshairs of something we cannot comprehend is terrifying. The way that Pennywise knows each of their fears and plays on them, the way he predicts their responses and lays individual traps for each of them is a big part of the what makes Pennywise so frightening. Pennywise strategically isolates each of them from the group and then confronts them with their greatest fear. Pennywise feeds on their fear but also uses fear like a net to ensnare his victims.

Pennywise tries to separate and isolate them, but love and loyalty draws them together and saves their lives. “Fear not” might be one of the most powerful messages in Jesus’ teaching. “Love your friends” is another. Life is less scary when you aren’t alone. Fear is less powerful when somebody is holding your hand and watching your back.

Movies like It are lots more fun when you aren’t watching them alone. I recommend seeing It in the theater. Maybe you’ll get lucky and sit near someone like me who involuntarily startles at cheap jump scares. A lot of critics didn’t like the jump scares but it’s part of the fun of the horror genre as far as I’m concerned.