It is set in Derry, Maine in the late 1980s. Ben, a chubby kid who has recently moved there, says, “Derry is not like any town I’ve ever been in before.” Well, that’s for sure. In Derry, the bullies-to-victim ratio is so high that bullies have to stand in line to get their turn at tormenting their victims. Said victims belong to a group known as The Losers Club. Ben quickly gets to join, for it is clear that he is Loser material, especially when the chief bully, Henry, carves his initial into Ben’s belly.
Another new member of the group is Beverly, who was introduced to us sitting on the toilet while mean girls poured filthy water on her for being a slut. At least, that’s the rumor. What those girls don’t know is that Beverly could not have been having sex with half the boys in town, because her father has been molesting her for years, and he is too possessively jealous to allow her to have anything to do with boys.
And she is not the exception. You see, in the town of Derry, after the Losers spend the day being bullied by all the kids in school, they get to go home and be bullied by their parents. Actually, even the bullies get bullied by their parents in Derry, Maine, as when Henry’s father ridicules and humiliates him in front of his friends. But it’s not just parents. All the adults bully the children in this town, because it takes a village. For example, when we first meet Ben, he is in the library reading about the history of Derry. The librarian belittles him for spending time there reading books. “Don’t you have any friends?” she asks derisively.
In other words, Derry is a nightmare town, a place where children are continually tormented by those around them. So, Ben was exactly right when he said that Derry is not like any town he had ever been in before.
Oh wait! I almost forgot. Ben wasn’t talking about all that. He was talking about the way people, especially children, disappear at a rate of six times the national average, and it is especially concentrated in recurring periods of twenty-seven years. As he and the other Losers soon find out, the culprit is Pennywise, the Dancing Clown. You see, it’s not enough that they have to live in a town where the natural torments of bullying and child abuse are unrelenting. They get a bunch of supernatural horrors piled on top of that.
Well, there’s a lot of running around and being scared by special effects, especially when the Losers finally decide they have to do something about Pennywise. They figure out that he is in this old house enclosing a well. At one point, Pennywise gets hold of Beverly and puts her in a trance, at which point she begins to float slowly upward. Her friends realize that all the other children that have gone missing over the years are floating above her. They pull Beverly down, but she is still in a trance. Then Ben kisses Sleeping Beauty, and she wakes up.
You see, Ben has had a crush on Beverly for a long time, and he gave her a postcard with a love poem on it. Beverly was deeply moved. And so Ben and Beverly fall in love, right? Wrong! How could you possibly think that little chubby kid would get the girl? Obviously, it is Bill, who is slender and a little taller, that Beverly wants. In fact, she was disappointed to find out that the poem was not sent to her by Bill, but rather by Ben instead. And so, poor Ben is bullied not only by Henry and his gang, and not only by the librarian, but also by the people that made this movie, who deliberately added to his torment by making him a loser when it comes to love on account of his looks.
We don’t get much by way of explanation as to the how or why of the supernatural in this movie. There is some suggestion that Pennywise feeds on fear. Well, no wonder he thrives in Derry! Other than that, we never really find out what’s going on. I admit that I have never read the book on which this movie is based, nor have I seen the miniseries based on this book. Maybe there is an explanation somewhere in all that, but you won’t find it in this movie as a stand-alone story. At the very end of the movie, the words “Chapter One” threaten us with a sequel, so maybe everything will be explained in that movie, but I doubt it. In any event, I’ll never know, because I certainly won’t be watching it.
After Pennywise is dispatched, presumably because the Losers are not afraid of him, though they damn well should be, the floating children start to descend. What does that mean? Are they going to be brought back to life? Are they going to be able to go back home so they can be bullied by their parents? Are they going be able to go back to school so they can be bullied by their classmates? Are the bullies that went missing going to be able to return and start making other children miserable again? The missing children may not be left hanging in the air, but we are.
One more thing. Beverly finally got tired of being her father’s sex slave, so she killed him by hitting him on the head with a toilet lid, leaving his body in the bathroom. There is no hint of an investigation of this homicide. I’m not saying this movie was obliged to present us with a big trial like the one in Peyton Place (1957), but without there being even a reference to what happens when you leave a skull-crushed father lying around, such as Beverly saying she’s glad that the grand jury believed her story, that too is left hanging in the air. She just tells Bill she is leaving town to go live with her aunt. Then they kiss. Too bad for you, Ben.
Let us step back for a minute and examine the theme of this movie, which is fear. Fear is a useful emotion, causing us to avoid danger or to flee from it. But it is the dangers of this world that cause our fears, not the other way around, as this movie seems to suggest, which is that it is our fears that cause the danger, and that if we could just get rid of our fears, the dangers would go away. There is such a thing as being unduly afraid of something, as in the case of phobias or superstition. But Pennywise aside, the dangers in this movie are real. They are not the imagined fears of a neurotic.
Now, it is certainly true that we sometimes have to overcome our fears in order to eliminate the danger, as when Beverly splits her father’s skull by whacking him with the lid of a toilet. But it was not her fear of her father that caused him to molest her. Or consider Ben’s situation with the gang of bullies. Are we to believe that if he had not been afraid of them, his troubles would have been over, that they would not have held him while Henry carved his initial in his belly? This movie conflates the perfectly reasonable notion that we sometimes have to stop being afraid of our enemies in order to defeat them with the nonsensical notion that our enemies exist because of our fears and that they will be eliminated by the mere absence of that emotion.