IT upends horror movie norms.
Conventional wisdom dictates that good horror movies aren’t supposed to show their respective monsters. For example: Jaws rarely shows the shark, The Babadook obscures the Babadook, and the witch barely appears in The Witch, and on the surface, this idea that audience should seldom get a good glimpse of the monster is quite understandable because after all, what could possibly be more frightening than a lurking terror that can’t be seen?
While this notion of adhering to a well established golden rule is admirable (and budget conscious) and a good rule of thumb for new and independent filmmakers, it must be said the actual beings that go bump in the night are themselves visually just as frightening as their phantom counterparts.
I mean, if a grizzly bear approached me, I would be shitting breakfast tacos because grizzly bears are terrifying, and the same can absolutely be said about Pennywise who is cannibalistic shape-shifting murder clown.
He’s fucking scary. Deal with it.
IT, the recent adaptation of Stephen King’s beloved horror epic (which I really liked by the way), not only proudly allows Pennywise the dancing clown to be the most visually striking and memorable aspect of the movie but a rare horror movie monster whose devilishly smirking face is terrifying despite being constantly visible.
True, much of this is due to Bill Skarsgard’s haunting portrayal of Pennywise as well as good make up and costume design, but Pennywise is so effective at creeping out the audience because of how well he embodies the film’s core themes of how kids handle trauma.
While trauma is usually regarded as something sexual assault and abuse victims go through, IT uses this very real feeling of emotional disturbance that numerous people have to cope with and conveys this distress to tell a story around children trying to live their lives all while a monster clown stalks and torments them.
Sure, their trauma is caused by the literal manifestation of a monster, but it’s still trauma. Pennywise is essentially an effective narrative tool that is a visual representation of trauma, and the character arcs the kids undergo is how they learn to deal with that said trauma in order to live a productive and fruitful life.
However, “dealing with it” proves to be difficult because despite the fact that a clown is trying to eat them, all the kids can do is pretend that everything is normal and that the horrors they see and the pain they endure on a regular basis is just a fact of life. There aren’t any well known resources these kids can use in order to help them survive, and sadly, they can’t go to their parents and other adults because the older authority figures are unreliable at best and absolute monsters at worst.
All the adults in IT are assholes: Bill’s parents are cold and depressed, Eddie’s mom wants to keep him a shut in, Stan’s father admonishes him, Henry’s father is emotionally abusive, Mike’s guardian regularly tells him to basically grow a pair, the librarian is mean to the new kid, and Beverly’s father rapes her.
The adults literally have little in the way of redeeming qualities
Additionally (and most importantly), Pennywise is a monster that is only visible to children, meaning that their shitty ass parents wouldn’t even believe their scared shitless kids if they had told them. This is something many trauma victims have to go through as well and is particularly true for sexual assault victims who must contend with a patriarchal system that rewards abusers and punishes victims.
IT reflects this disturbing reality. The kids learn that the only people they can trust to have their back are other people who have undergone similar traumatic life experiences, and Bill and the rest of his gang form The Losers Club as a makeshift support group comprised of all the poor souls who have survived encounters with Pennywise so they can become empowered and overcome a literal demon that plagues them.
It’s a monumental task the kids have to undertake themselves.
These incredibly relateable themes of trauma all circle back to why it was such a great idea to make Pennywise such a visible horror in this narrative. Despite the fact that Pennywise is invisible to adults, he is quite real to the horrified children of Derry who have to fend off this monster on a daily basis, and even if the children in The Losers Club survive to adulthood, Pennywise will always be a part of them. He stripped them of their innocence, and they will never forget his wolfish sharp toothed grin, his demonic yellow eyes, and face paint that conceals malice with a layer of playfulness.
To these kids, evil and brutality have a face, and it is the face of a clown.