Red lips in a white face with a ruffle behind, a red balloon partially consider the face. This is a still of Pennywise from It.

2017’s It Isn’t Scary, It’s Frightening

  • You’re all doomed!


  • I saw It. I generally liked it and it’s fully earned R rating really pays off. Several of the characters are underdeveloped and some of the scenes seem to have been shot, edited, and directed by a group of people who did not know that their work would be included in this film.

    If you generally enjoy a horror movie there is a high probability you will enjoy It. Review over, go and watch it.

    If you really enjoy a horror movie and want to talk a little about craft, pull up a chair.

    It’s strangest quality as a film is that it’s a horror movie that is simply not very scary. While the line between scary and not is porous, subjective, and obtuse, it’s up to a movie to either define its terms or define itself in relation to existing ones.

    Allow me to shape that definition. I would not call It a “scary movie” in that it was a movie that did not scare me. Without the odd loud noise jump scare there’s very little to produce genuine scares. What It does do very well is that it creates cinematic tension to induce fright. Adults just out of focus stare at children. Non-diegetic sounds create tension, lighting and framing are used to make the viewer uneasy. In this way, It is a very frightening movie without being particularly scary.

    Think of this as horror derived from tone and palette instead of from content. Pennywise’s unfocused eyes aren’t meant to terrorize Georgie, they’re meant to speak to the audience on the other side of the screen. Bill and Bev can’t hear the way that the bass is building and discomforting, only those in the theater can. Ben never sees the older woman staring at him from across the room, only we do.

    It’s disappointing that the film works so hard to generate unease and discomfort through moments like this but chooses to never pay off this set up in any real way. As a movie, it is more interested in exploring the specific fears that the children exhibit and, in the process, only uses the tension it builds to crescendo to jump scares for the audience. Loud bangs and musical tones that don’t have any affect at all on the children go a long way to jar an audience without any lasting effect.

    But It revels in terror, especially specific, representative terror. The blood exploding from Bev’s sink isn’t just about how gross blood can be, but tied to the adolescent expression of her femininity. Georgie symbolizes a failure that Bill feels as a brother but also a fracturing of a delicate family. Even Henry Bowers is more than a bully, he’s the embodiment of the generally injustice and trauma of childhood both in the way he treats others and the way he is treated.

    What’s more is that this doesn’t feel always feel intentional. As a film it would be elevated to another level if it found more intention in the ways it uses its own punches at the audience. Pennywise is about a complete, total kind of fear mongering. While any given adult might not be afraid of, or even cognizant of, Pennywise, the influence of the monster beneath the town can be seen in the ways that various adults are passively malicious.

    Why isn’t the idea of Pennywise used to implicate the audience from both the angle of having been children but also being adults? Why aren’t we asked to confront our fears and the ways in which we weren’t brave enough like the kids were? That’s the source of our terror as an audience, knowing that sometimes it doesn’t get better and over time we’ve become the apathetic adults. If It asked us to confront that, maybe it would be a scary movie.

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