No Losers Here

Growing up isn’t easy. At a time in your life, you come to realize that your parents and other adult figures aren’t always going to be able to protect you from the larger world, which feels especially intimidating during adolescence.

When you’re on the cusp of adulthood, you find that society has already let you down. There seem to be bullies at every turn, adults appear to be ambivalent towards your struggles, and if you live in a small town, it threatens to crush your individuality.

However, that doesn’t mean you have to suffer through these trials alone, and that’s what lies at the heart of Andy Muschietti’s adaptation of Stephen King’s coming-of-age classic novel.

There’s a haunting, sinister force that seeks to destroy our main characters, but they choose to unify and face the danger nobody else will. “It” works wonderfully as an energetic spook-a-blast, and even as a comedy, but it truly excels as childhood tale about the loss of innocence, love, grief, and friendship.

It’s 1989. The town of Derry, Maine feels like any other small town.

Except it has dark, violent history that seems to keep repeating itself. In this town are seven youngsters: Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), a boy with a stutter whose younger brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) vanished the year prior.

Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the new kid in town who struggles with weight issues and spends his days reading away in the library.

Bev (Sophia Lillis), a poor girl who lives with her sexually-abusive father. Richie (Finn Wolfhard), the wisecracker with a dirty-mouth. Stan (Wyatt Oleff), a Jewish germaphobe who is the most pragmatic of the group. Mike (Chosen Jacobs) the home-schooled kid who lives with his farmer grandfather after his parents die in a fire. Finally Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), a hypochondriac with an overprotective mother.

These children are all very different and not all of them are friends when the story begins. But they have one thing in common: They’ve all had encounters with an otherworldly being in the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard), who is connected to not just Derry’s horrific past, but also the disappearances of several of the town’s residents.

Banning together to form The Losers’ Club, the kids must uncover the mystery behind Pennywise and stop It once and for all.

It’s cliché to say that the setting feels like a supporting character in a film, but this is especially true of Derry. Superficially, it feels like a typical quaint, little town thriving with small businesses and inhabited mostly by nuclear families.

Underneath that, however, Derry is oppressive, soul-crushing, and indifferent to any kind of suffering. Just the way flyers for missing children are casually pinned atop one another conveys the town’s insensitivity is enough to feel like all hope is lost for our protagonists.

Riddled with bullies, pedophiles, neglectful or abusive parents, and cowardly bystanders, Derry is an evil entity in its own right, one that like Pennywise, threatens to tear down these characters and eat them alive.

Pennywise himself proves to be a nightmarish villain. Skarsgard’s performance is reminiscent of Robert Englund’s iconic role of Freddy Krueger from “A Nightmare on Elm Street, one that will go on to haunt generations of young moviegoers.

When Pennywise first appears in a sewer drain, the shadows obscure half his face, with only his piercing yellow eyes that each veer off into different directions standing out as he entices the ill-fated Georgie to reclaim his paper boat.

Rainwater runs down his lips but he doesn’t react to it. Whether or not you’re afraid of clowns, Pennywise’s inhuman inflections are startlingly creepy enough to provoke an uneasy sense of uncomfortableness in any audience member.

Aside from that incredibly intense opening scene, “It” prefers to embrace the creepiness of the premise rather than heart-pounding horror. The most surprising element of this film is the humor.

“It” is very funny. Not just in the interactions between the characters, but in the scary scenes as well one scene in particular between a crying Eddie cornered by a screaming Pennywise will have you torn between feeling amused and afraid.

Muschietti’s willingness to juggle both horror and comedy allows for his storytelling to be more inventive. The comedic horror stylings recall that of Sam Raimi and his “Evil Dead” films. (This movie is the most fun I’ve had watching a horror film in theaters since the aforementioned director’s “Drag Me to Hell.”)

Where “It” really shines is when the focus is on the Losers’ Club. No matter what scene they’re in, you are engaged with these characters because the film deliberately takes time to develope them and their backstories, motivations, and personalities.

While not all of them get an equal amount of attention, each one is distinct enough to set them apart.

They’re such a relatable, lovable group of youngsters, and the actors inhabiting these roles are more than up to the task.

Casting good child actors is hard. Yet, there is not a weak link among the cast, with the standouts being Sophia Lillis as Bev and “Stranger Things” breakout Finn Wolfhard as Richie.

Both are responsible for some of the film’s most touching (one of Bev’s last lines will tug on your heartstrings) and funniest moments (one of Richie’s jokes had my audience laughing so hard, nobody could hear what other characters were saying), respectively. Bright careers lie ahead for the entire cast.

It was while watching these characters play off each other, I found myself being taken back to moments from my childhood. Moments where my friends and I rode our bikes around the neighborhood, walked through the woods, and cursed like sailors.

Moments from a time where things seemed simpler. Before the harsh realities of growing up hit us. It’s rare that a horror film resonates on such a deep, personal level.

Whether it’s Bill accepting the loss of his brother or Bev overcoming abuse or Eddie standing up to his mother, anybody can relate to what these characters endure.

Though the film ends hinting at a sequel (only the first half of King’s novel is adapted), I’m curious to see how it handles a radical direction the story takes that I won’t spoil here. Whatever the case, I’m excited to see where things go from here and the next chapter in the Losers’ journey.

 Their experiences are a reminder that sometimes the world will make you feel like it’s out to get you. People who you count on may turn their backs on you. Forces outside your control will try to control and oppress you through fear.

The best we can do then is find others with kindred spirits, open our hearts, and brave the turmoil life burdens us together. That’s why The Losers’ Club are the real winners here.