Where does It fit in the horror genre?
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Andy Muschietti’s It begins, so to speak, with a bite; and it continues at a cracking rate for the next 90 minutes. That it faded towards the finish line and fell just short of the highest distinction is not to dismiss the merit of its ideas and, for the large part, execution. If it had finished before the third act, I have no shame in saying that I would have struggled to walk down the dark alleyway back to the train station. That the fear dissipated was partly a result of loss of momentum, but in fairness to the director the narrative is driven by the characters’ collective overcoming of fear itself. I should admit that I am familiar with neither King’s novel nor the American mini-series of which the rictus grin of Tim Curry’s Pennywise is the lasting image. Yet the lack of acquaintance with the paraphernalia of the It phenomenon has as its compensation a higher sensitivity to the way in which this 2017 version draws on horror universals. And not just horror universals, but human universals as well. The suffering of a young black man, accepted by the main group of friends while being tormented by the bullies of the town, is certainly not a token gesture to the fight against racism. Traumatic conflict with parents and fellow school pupils illustrates the evil of which the human heart is capable, more even than Pennywise. The Youtube reviewer Chris Stuckmann expressed the soul of the film well when he referred to the resemblance of the protagonists to the children in Spielberg’s E.T., who battle injustice and learn the value of empathy. The protagonists are a group of young outsiders whose friendship keeps them sane, and this, along with a healthy distrust of adults and a flame of deeper love, is eventually the entity that conquers the empty signifier of fear, which Pennywise embodies. This structure already has echoes of Nightmare on Elm Street (the visual reference is telling) and the more recent It Follows (2015). In fact, it is to the themes and narrative arc of the latter that this Stephen King adaptation holds fast. They are both inspired and flawed at roughly a 2:1 ratio, and often for the same reasons. The suspense is masterful at times; yet why does the villain always have to be crushed in a literal fight? The melodramatic denouement takes something away from the psychological sophistication developed up to that point. Horror paradigms become more stark as the film progresses. But let's dwell on the virtues of It.
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