As a society, we’ve all generally agreed upon one simple truth: Clowns are creepy. And while this latest iteration of Pennywise the Dancing Clown happily delivers on this front, the town of Derry proves to be the true source of horror in Andy Muschietti’s IT. Derry’s homicide rate is six times the national average and just about everyone who lives there proves to be a monster. It’s a sinister facade of a town, one that brings the kids of the Losers Club together.

The Losers Club is the heart and soul of IT. They’re a group of outcasts and misfits. Losers. Their only defense against a town and demon space clown set on terrorizing them is their camaraderie and friendship. Strip away the over-the-top horror and the creepy demon space clowns and you have an engaging coming of age story about a group of friends. The Losers Club is the most important part of IT, and the film gets them so right.

IT goes out of its way to make you care about these kids. A big portion of the runtime is dedicated to them hanging out, being kids in 1989. Their dynamic is so enjoyable to watch. All of the young actors portraying the losers absolutely nail their roles.  Jaeden Lieberher’s Bill is so sympathetic. Bill is the leader of the Losers Club, which is ironic, considering he’s struck with an unfortunate stutter. In a typical clique of young kids, Bill would be the butt of many jokes. Not the Losers Club. While he may get the occasional ribbing (primarily from Richie, AKA Trashmouth), they still loyally follow him on his search to find his little brother Georgie, who went missing months earlier thanks to a certain dancing clown.

The standout performance in the Losers Club has to be Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard as the loudmouth Richie. Much to the annoyance of his friends, Richie never shuts up, delivering hilarious and excessively immature quips at every available moment. This isn’t just for comedic relief either. Underneath Richie’s profane motormouth is a sense of vulnerability, using humor as a way to hide his own insecurities. Jack Dylan Grazer is almost as funny as the neurotic hypochondriac Eddie. Always carrying an inhaler and two fanny packs, Eddie becomes just as foul-mouthed as Richie once he begins to feel nervous. In an already extremely funny film, Richie and Eddie manage to garner the biggest laughs. Jeremy Ray Taylor is so charming as the young and chubby Ben Hanscom and his dynamic with Sophia Lillis‘ Beverly is so sweet.  Beverly, who’s been updated to a 1980’s rebel is a great change from the previous miniseries. She feels like a vital part of the Losers Club now, much more than the previous adaptation.

Stan and Mike draw the short straws (or as Richie puts it: measuring dicks) when compared to the rest of the club. While the young actors playing them do a solid job, the film leaves them with little to do. Particularly Mike, who joins the club fairly late into the film. He never feels like a tight-knit part of the group like everyone else. I would’ve appreciated one more sequence of the kids just hanging out in order to better define Mike’s friendship with the rest of the club. Stan is just kind of there to be scared. There isn’t much going on with him.

We’re pretty far into this review and you wouldn’t even realize I was writing about a horror film. That’s because the film’s true strengths lie in its character work. The film is pretty creepy, but it feels secondary to the friendship and interactions of the Losers Club.

That isn’t to say the film doesn’t have its scares. It does. Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise feels suitably unpredictable and undeniably evil. He’s at his best when he’s quietly stalking and manipulating the kids of Derry. Pennywise’s best and most terrifying scene is actually his introduction, where he’s goading sweet and innocent Georgie into joining him in the sewer. This is prime Pennywise, and we get quite a few scenes like this throughout the film. Unfortunately, Muschietti too often attempts to craft scares that are too over-the-top, relying on shoddy CGI to shock the audience. This didn’t detract from the film too much,  but enough to deflate multiple otherwise tension-filled scenes.

The most terrifying portions of IT come from the all-too-real horrors of Derry itself. Like Bev’s Dad, who is uncomfortably handsy and controlling of her, or Henry Bowers’ reckless and unhinged bullying, or the fact that almost every single adult seems out to get the Losers in some way. Derry is an atmospheric town, one that would be horrible to live in. This is what really brings IT together as an effective horror film. It genuinely makes you care about the Losers Club and their friendship, and makes Derry a dangerous place intent on tearing them all down. But, as the film makes very clear, the Losers friendship is what keeps them alive.

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