People really like IT. Andres Muschietti’s remake of Stephen King’s horror book smashed box office records in its opening weekend, raking in a staggering $123.1 million. That’s the best opening weekend for any horror movie ever, and 2017′s third most popular opening overall. (Beauty and the Beast and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 have IT beat, but not by much.) Variety reports that two-thirds of those who schlepped to the theaters this weekend were over the age of 25, which definitely means nostalgia played a huge factor, assuming most of the people within this demographic would have seen or had access to IT’s 1990 two-part television adaptation. So far, the critics have more or less approved of IT. But after seeing IT this weekend (and being among those who have never seen the 1990 version or read the book), let me tell you that IT doesn’t have it.
Not completely, that is.
For a horror movie, Muschietti’s IT isn’t all that horrifying. Yes, Pennywise’s mouthful of razor-sharp teeth is rather disturbing, and the image of glassy-eyed children floating in limbo will haunt you for a minute, but this isn’t a movie that wants to shock you for shock’s sake. The titular It is, after all, the personification of human fear and the insidious ways that fear can manipulate us and put us in danger (see: clowns). Even when It presents itself as something other than Pennywise the clown, the message of solidarity and strength in human connection takes the wheel, putting actual screen time horror in the backseat where it tries its hardest to be a backseat driver. If you’re expecting to shriek and hide behind your hands, lower your expectations. The real horror of IT isn’t Pennywise (though Bill Skarsgård’s interpretation is certainly more horrifying than the creepy campiness of Tim Curry’s), it’s the people of King’s fictional town of Derry, Maine.
IT shines in its depiction of being young and an outcast. Adolescence is a fickle thing, and Muschietti makes a point to give a backstory to each of the seven main kids—especially Sophia Lillis’ Beverly Marsh. Beverly’s history of violence by way of her father is implied in the 1990 adaptation, but Muschietti doesn’t skirt around the horrors at her home. The slurs hurled toward her way cut even deeper once you realize the shame her father’s actions bring about. It’s triggering. And the rest of the parental units of Derry aren’t much help. They move on from one child’s death and disappearance to another without so much as blinking an eye or asking their children how they’re doing. Pennywise is scary, but the lack of parenting is scarier.
Through strong dialogue and memorable acting, though, IT’s message of strength in numbers and friendship becomes its saving grace. The tiny band of misfits manages the impossible because they support and believe in one another. Even in the face of real fear, they stand tall, willing and able to protect the ones they love. Is that enough to defeat It once and for all? We’ll just have to wait for the inevitable part two. In the meantime, it’s probably best to avoid all sewer grates and red balloons. You never know when you’ll start to float, too.