The Female Gaze: Come for the clown scares, stay for the real-world horror in “It”

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   This past weekend, Pennywise the Clown taunted both young and adult audiences in Andy Muschietti’s “It” (2017). The Stephen King adaptation drove audiences to the theater with the eerie phrase “you’ll float too.”

    I have never been a fan of horror films, but the single floating balloon that masked It, with a nod to “Stranger Things,” brought this moviegoer to the theater. However, my expectations were challenged after I realized the true horror in the film wasn’t It, but the real-life horrors of the people in Derry, Maine.

    Set in late 1980s America, 27 years since the last sighting of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), “It” centers around adolescent Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) and his mission to find his missing brother Georgie who was mysteriously swept away in the sewers. Bill’s best friends assist him: Ritchie (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Stan (Wyatt Oleg), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Mike (Chosen Jacobs). Together they are the Losers Club.

    In 1989 Derry, summer means no more homework and no more bullies like Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton). But Bill and the Losers have multiple run-ins with Henry and his gang of stereotypical bullies as they search for Georgie in the sewers, presumably where It lives. The Losers have to face Pennywise countless times until they finally realize what he craves: their fears.

    Despite its jump scares, “It” isn’t so much about Pennywise the Clown, but rather the dark side of humanity, a darkness that comes in the form of sexist comments, parental abuse, and racial discrimination.

    By the end of the film, the Losers are charged with facing their fears of those who harm them, whether that be Beverly protecting herself from her abusive father or Mike standing up against bigotry from Henry and his gang. The terror the Losers confront in “It” seems laughable compared to the daily torment they encounter as outsiders in their own town.

    Pennywise’s creepy persona and wandering eyes brought audiences into the theaters this past weekend, giving “It” the third-largest opening box-office in 2017, hitting the $123 million mark domestically.

    Unlike Pennywise, “It” might have bitten off more than it could chew, trying simultaneously to grapple with humanity’s ugly side while showcasing a terrifying, dancing clown.

    However, with the amount of red balloons spread across the U.S. before Sept. 8, I’m not surprised “It” floated above the competition at the box-office. You can join Bill and the Losers Club until Thursday at Ashley Square Cinema.