Published on September 15th, 1986, Stephen King’s 1138-page doorstop, blockbuster novel was first adapted into a two-part 1990 television movie starring Tim Curry as the eponymous IT, who primarily takes the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Twenty-seven years later, rather appropriately, IT has raised its sinister head again—this time in the form of a two-part feature film. Though the film was not as faithfully adapted as the TV movie, it still captures the spirit and terror of King’s literary vision. IT grossed over $700 million worldwide, making it one of the most financially successful horror films ever.
What gives IT its resonance is that at its core level, it’s a metaphor of bullying. The Losers’ Club members, each struggling with their own infirmity, are bullied by the unearthly creature that predominantly takes on a clown’s image that preys upon their fears. And if that isn’t enough, the persecuted teens are also bullied by select classmates and even their parents. The message of the story is that you either kowtow to the bullying and die, or you stand up for yourself and survive. It’s this primal message—kill or be killed—which is what gives King’s tale its timelessness. Much like Oscar-nominated Get Out, another highly successful horror film from 2017, and covered here, IT is a theme-driven horror experience that reveals something about the human condition.
Though IT is presented in two parts, the way the film is broken down, beginning with the teens in 1989 Derry, it’s virtually a stand-alone film that hits all the major story beats perfectly. If you’re not too scared, let’s take a look at what makes IT tick.
Written by: Chase Palmer & Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman
Based on the novel by Stephen King
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
MITH Type: Pure Monster
MITH Cousins: The Thing, Alien, Jaws, The Mist, Frankenstein, Tremors, Anaconda, Rogue, Jurassic Park, Deep Blue Sea, 47 Meters Below, The Shallows, Lake Placid, Cloverfield, The Reef, Creature from the Black Lagoon, An American Werewolf in London, Godzilla
How does It hit Blake Snyder’s story beats? Here is the Save the Cat!® beat sheet for the film:
Opening Image: It’s October, 1988 in Derry, Maine—a somber, rain-soaked Northeastern town. Something already seems off here, a quiet terror. Unlike a haunted house, it’s the entire town of Derry that’s haunted from its dark past. And we’ll soon learn why.
Set-Up: Bill Denbrough’s house comes into view. Teen Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), who has a pronounced stutter, is sick in bed with the flu. His little brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), wants to go out and play in the rain, the gutters streaming rivers. Bill folds up a boat out of paper, the SS Georgie. Fighting his fears, Georgie goes down into the cellar to get the paraffin wax to waterproof the paper boat. Something unseen lurks down there for the little boy—like many dark and creepy cellars. Georgie escapes but only for a short while. As Bill sends his brother off, it’s the last time he’ll see Georgie alive.
Catalyst: Georgie loses the homemade boat his big brother made in a gurgling storm drain. Within the drain’s darkness, however, Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård), who’s dwelling there, retrieves the boat. The bright-faced clown makes his introductions to Georgie and then offers the paper boat back to the little boy. Georgie Denbrough reaches inside the drain to take his toy back from the eerie clown. The yellow-eyed monster with a mouthful of jagged teeth—IT—takes the boy’s life.
Theme Stated: It’s now June, 1989. Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) works on his grandfather’s sheep ranch. The boy holds a pneumatic captive bolt pistol in his shaking hand. He can’t fire a bolt into the sheep’s head to kill it. Disappointed in his grandson being “weak,” Mike’s stern grandfather, Leroy Hanlon (Steven Williams), tries to motivate the troubled boy. “There are two places you can be in this world,” Mike’s grandfather explains. “You can be out here, like us, or you can be in there, like them [the sheep]. You waste time hemming and hawing and someone else is gonna make that choice for you. Except you won’t know it, until you feel that bolt between your eyes.” This is the theme that drives the story and the characters. If they don’t take responsibility, they will all end up like Georgie and the rest of the lost children in the haunted town of Derry, preyed upon by this murderous, shape-shifting clown down in the sewer.
Set-Up (cont’d): In Derry High School, we meet the rest of the gang who will eventually form the Losers’ Club. First there’s Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), the mouthy kid with cutting remarks to spare. Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff), who’s struggling with his Jewish religion. Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), the germophobe hypochondriac who was made that way by his overbearing mother. And Bill, the stuttering one, who’s still haunted by his brother Georgie’s disappearance. The friends joke around with each other in the hallway—school is out for the summer.
Outside, however, they’re taunted by the town’s resident juvenile delinquent, Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), and his crew—Patrick Hockstetter (Owen Teague) and Belch Huggins (Jake Sim). Henry isn’t just your run-of-the-mill hood in sleeveless t-shirts and grimy, acid-wash jeans; he’s a sociopath with a switchblade who will slice and dice anyone he deems as weak and can victimize. Henry sees himself as the wolf and the soon-to-be-formed Losers’ Club as his sheep he can stalk. Bowers promises the summer to be a “hurt train” for stuttering Bill and his friends.
Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) isn’t having such a fun last day either. She’s trapped in the girls’ bathroom toilet with a horde of mean girls calling her names like “Beaverly,” accusing her of being the school slut. The antagonists dump wet garbage onto her over the side of the stall to remind Beverly that she’s “trash.”
B Story: Beverly runs into the overweight “new kid,” Ben Hascomb (Jeremy Ray Taylor). Beverly’s kindness to Ben, and being the only one to sign his yearbook, makes Ben immediately fall in love with her. The B Story is often the love interest and that’s true here. However, Beverly is not only the “love interest” for Ben (and later Bill); she will also be the guiding light as she’s the most mature and crafty of the soon-to-be-formed Losers’ Club.
By minute 17, we know who all the major players are in this game of death.
Debate: Later, in the garage, Bill Denbrough gets in trouble with Zach Denbrough (Geoffrey Pounsett), his father, because Bill made a model and diagrams of the storm drains which lead out into the Barrens. Bill’s obsessed with finding Georgie, who he believes is still out there.
Delivering meat to the local market, Mike sees a troubling image of burned hands and smoke calling to him from behind the market door in the back alley. (Mike survived a house fire that his parents did not.) After the chained door flies open, Pennywise the Clown laughs, as well as the bleating of sheep, which suggests that Mike, and all the kids of Derry, are herds of sheep for the taking, echoing the theme. IT knows what scares you. Is this really happening? Mike doesn’t have time to debate with himself as Henry and his cronies nearly run him over with a TransAm. Henry tells Mike to “get out of his town.”
At the Jewish synagogue, Stan, on the eve of his Bar Mitzvah, is chastised by his rabbi father for not knowing the Torah. Returning the tome into his father’s office, Stan carefully readjusts the crooked Amedeo Modigliani-esque painting of a girl with a flute—a picture that terrifies him. When his back is turned, the painting falls. Startled, Stan attempts to hang the picture up again—haunting flute music plays. In the shadows, the unnaturally elongated flute player smile becomes a rictus—IT playing with Stan’s fears. Not staying around to debate the reality of this, Stan runs.
Ben Hascom dwells in the library. He writes a postcard to Beverly, an adolescent haiku of love: “Your hair is winter fire, January embers. My heart burns there, too.” The young author signs it anonymously. Searching through a book about Derry, Ben discovers disturbing photographs. It seems Derry has a history of dying children, as illustrated in a factory explosion that killed 88 of them during an Easter Egg hunt. Ben witnesses the trademark red balloon drifting across the library (no one else does) and follows it. The pudgy boy finds some Easter eggs and follows them. The egg trail leads Ben to a headless, walking corpse in the basement that morphs into Pennywise, who taunts him as “fat boy.” Leaving the library, Henry Bowers and his lethal stooges assault Ben. Henry begins carving his name in Ben’s ample stomach with a switchblade. Ben escapes and the hoods chase him into the Barrens.
Break into Two: Eddie, Richie, Bill, and Stan have ventured into wilds and brambles near Derry called The Barrens. They’re looking for signs of Georgie—mostly Bill, who can’t shake his obsession of finding his lost brother. Being a germophobe, Eddie doesn’t want anything to do with climbing into the sewer culvert; neither does Stan. Wandering into the muck along with Richie, Bill finds Betty Ripsom’s moldering tennis shoe. She was here. Maybe Georgie will be too? Beaten up and dirty, Ben shows up—he’s running for his life.
Fun and Games: Patrick Hockstetter, close on Ben’s heels, finds the sewer culvert the boys were exploring. Armed with a spray paint can and a lighter, he wanders inside of the concrete cave looking for Ben. What the Bowers minion finds instead is the lost city of children, their vacant-eyed corpses wandering toward him chanting, “You’ve found us, Patrick,” Betty Ripsom among them. Patrick runs, but finds himself trapped. And then Pennywise shows up.
Bill, Richie, Stan, Eddie, and Ben escape on bikes back into town. They take Ben to the drugstore to patch him up from his knife wounds inflicted by Henry. They don’t have enough money for supplies. Beverly is in the store about to buy her first box of tampons, a rite-of-passage moment. She runs into the boys, literally. Beverly runs interference for the boys with the creepy shopkeeper, allowing them to abscond with the supplies to mend Ben.
Returning home for Beverly, however, proves to be no Fun and Games. Her home is dismal and creepy, and her father, Alvin Marsh (Stephen Bogaert), is worse. She’s a victim of verbal and sexual abuse. It seems that Pennywise and Henry Bowers aren’t the only horrors that haunt Derry. Lashing out at her father’s advances, she trims off her “winter fire hair” into a Molly Ringwald bob.
On a bright summer day at the quarry, the boys and Beverly bond by hocking loogies off the rocky drop into the water and plunging into the green waters after them. This is the portion of the Fun and Games where the story can loosen up and we can enjoy some character-building scenes. The boys, swimming around in their underwear, are self-conscious of a girl their own age doing the same. Later, Richie rifles through Ben’s backpack and finds Xeroxed copies of Ben’s Derry discoveries. It seems that “people die or disappear six times the national average” in the troubled Maine town, with the death and disappearance of Derry kids being even higher. Ben offers to show his new-found friends more. They accept.
As the gang race off to Ben’s house, Patrick Hockstetter’s mother is putting up another ubiquitous MISSING flier up. They litter Derry’s walls and telephone poles. Just one more statistic to the “national average.” Ben reveals the origins of Derry. There seems to be a pattern of people missing. Ben’s findings spark Bill’s interest—maybe this will help him find Georgie.
As Eddie is heading home, he passes the ramshackle Niebolt house, Derry’s resident haunted house.
A willowy, ailing leper with oozing sores chases Eddie toward the dilapidated Victorian house. As Eddie slips through a fence to escape, the leper transforms into Pennywise and offers Eddie to join him and float. “We all float down here,” the unearthly clown promises with a crooked, toothy smile. IT knows what scares you.
At her gloomy house, Beverly finds the postcard Ben wrote—“Your hair is winter fire, January embers. My heart burns there, too.” She hides in the bathroom to read the card. Disembodied voices call to her from the mouth of the sink’s drain—the voices of Betty Ripsom, Patrick Hockstetter, and others. Beverly sticks the end of a measuring tape down the drain and pulls up clogs of her hair saturated with blood. The hairs, like spidery tendrils, reach out from the sink’s mouth and snatch her arms, pulling her face toward the drain. A fountain of syrupy blood explodes from the drain, covering Beverly and the entire bathroom in a macabre, scarlet paint.
Beverly screams in terror and her father enters. He doesn’t see the bloody tableau around him—apparently adults cannot, only kids. IT thrives on instilling terror in kids, after all. The only thing Beverly’s father notices is her new haircut. He shares his disappointment, telling her she looks like a boy.
Dripping water awakens Bill in the night. It’s coming from Georgie’s room. Bill ventures up there, finding no sign of his brother. Bill then catches a flash of a yellow rain slicker, like the one his brother was wearing, blur past and into the cellar. Bill ventures down there in a call-back scene from the opening when Georgie did the same. Bill finds his brother, Georgie, who asks him to come along so he can “float too.” Pennywise then springs from the water, attacking Bill, who flees.
Beverly invites the boys over (when her creepy and abusive father isn’t home) to check out the bathroom. They too can see the bloody mess. In a team effort, Beverly and her new friends clean up the mess in an appropriately ‘80s-style montage to The Cure. Later, Bill and Beverly share a moment. She quizzes Bill about “January embers” in the poem, but he doesn’t know what she means.
Later, Bill tells his friends what he saw—Georgie in the cellar and the clown. Eddie and Stan also admit that they’ve seen the clown. The only one who hasn’t seen it is “trashmouth” Richie, who makes a joke about only “virgins” seeing the clown.
At the edge of the Barrens, the group see Mike Hanlon’s bike abandoned on the ground and Belch Huggins’ car next to it. They know Mike’s in trouble. Mike, bloodied and beaten by Henry and his gang, sees Pennywise smiling at him from the weeds, waiving a bloody child’s arm at him. As Henry is about to crush Mike’s skull with a stone, he’s saved by Bill and his friends. They hurl river rocks at the hoods.
Mike joins their group, the final member, the lucky seven. This is a small victory for “The Losers’ Club,” as Richie coins the phrase.
IT has claimed another victim, 13-year-old Eddie Corcoran. (Down in the Barrens, Pennywise had waved the victim’s arm at Mike.) Corcoran’s MISSING poster is pasted over Betty Ripsom’s poster. It’s as if the town of Derry accepts their children missing. Ben notes, from his research of the town, that horrible events seem to happen every 27 years. Every 27 years, people, mostly children, go missing or die. Whatever is doing this seems to awaken and kill for a year and then goes into a rest period for another nearly three decades. This adds a ticking clock. IT will only feed for a few months and then stop for another 27 years, when the cycle will begin again. As the kids talk about their fears, IT seems to take a form of what scares them most: the “walking infection” leper attacking Eddie, Georgie appearing before Bill before morphing into a horrible creature, et al.
Midpoint: In Bill’s garage, the Losers’ Club attempt to figure out what’s going on with all these disappearances. How is IT moving around the town? (It’s a callback to the earlier garage scene with Bill and his dad. Bill’s dad is like most adults—apathetic and given up hope. Only with the help of his friends will Bill find Georgie.) Ben has the slides and projector. Bill uses his dad’s maps (dad works for the Derry public works) to figure out how IT is striking and where. “Everywhere IT happens it’s connected by the sewers,” Bill reveals. All the lines meet up to the old well house at the decaying Niebolt Street house. This is a false victory. Their actions cross A and B stories as the teens are no longer sheep, they’re on the hunt like wolves.
Bad Guys Close In: As Newton said with regards to physics—for every action there is always an equal and opposite, or contrary, reaction. Sure enough, after the Losers’ Club has gone public with finding IT, the killer clown comes after them. Pennywise takes over the slide projector, revealing his hideous rictus smile and bursts from the screen—the size of a truck—and attacks them. They barely escape, fleeing from the garage as the stakes raise. Pennywise’s dangerous, bullying action, as I’m sure was intended, fragments the group (which often happens when Bad Guys Close In). “IT saw us,” Eddie gasps. “IT saw us and IT knows where we are.” The teens are unsure they want to deal with this kind of unearthly, demonic menace and end up like Georgie, Bettie, and all the other lost children of Derry. Obsessed with finding his kid brother and armed with this new information of where to find Pennywise, however, Bill heads alone to the creepy Niebolt Street house.
Bill says he’ll go in alone. He can’t be haunted anymore. Richie says, “Wow, he didn’t stutter once.” Everyone except Beverly volunteers to stay outside. Richie, Eddie, and Bill go inside. This is the mouth of the inmost cave, as Joseph Campbell called it. The place where the evil dwells.
Richie finds a MISSING poster of himself and freaks. This is the first time he’s actually dealt with the mind games IT plays. Bill tells him that it’s not real, IT likes to play tricks. IT does take the form of a clown, after all. They hear calls for help and venture further inside. It’s “Betty Ripsom.” IT divides up the group—Eddie falls through the floor, breaking his arm. Richie, alone, finds himself in a room full of clowns—his worst fear.
Bill tells Richie none of this is real, just like the poster. Pennywise, who’s now attacking Eddie, begs to differ. IT ceases making Eddie “float” and goes after Richie and Bill.
However, using an iron-wrought rod from the fence outside, Beverly harpoons the clown in the skull.
Like any bully, if you stand up to IT, face your fears, IT will usually back down. IT does, escaping to the well. Bill follows. He sees the clown vanish down the old well. Is IT really retreating, or does it know Bill and his Georgie obsession well enough to know that he will follow?
Finding her son with a broken arm, Eddie’s mom freaks out and absconds with her son in an AMC Gremlin. The rest of the group disband too, save for Beverly, who is the helper story. “I want to run toward something not away from something.” The rest of the group splits up like a boy band gone bad. They’ve had enough. “IT wants to divide us,” Beverly says, “This is what it wants. We were strong when we attacked it.” (something like that.)
All Is Lost for Bill. Not only has he lost Georgie, but he’s lost the support of his friends. He only has Beverly, but two are not enough to combat this thing. They’ll die. Bill is worse off than he was at the beginning of the story. In a montage with “Dear God” by XTC playing, the divided Losers’ Club go about their business. Mike now operates the pneumatic bolt gun. Stan reads from the Torah. Ben continues his studies at the library.
It’s now August, two months into summer vacation. Henry Bowers and the remainder of his gang, Victor Criss and Belch Huggins, shoot whiskey bottles with a .45-caliber pistol. In a literal Save the Cat! moment, Officer Bowers (Stuart Hughes) shows up just as Henry takes a bead on a neighborhood feline. Henry lies to his father and says he was cleaning his father’s gun. The brutish cop grabs the gun, and in a thematic moment, fires several rounds near Henry’s boots. “Look at ‘im now boys,” Officer Bowers says. “Ain’t nothing like a little fear to make a paper man crumble.” It seems standing up to a bully might make them crumble.
Dark Night of the Soul: Later, however, Henry finds a red balloon. The string of the balloon is tied to a small box inside. The disembodied laughs of children fill Henry’s head. The bully opens the box and finds his missing switchblade (from back when he was slicing into Ben at the Barrens). Henry ventures inside his house and stands above his napping father. On the television, Pennywise tells Henry to “do it.” Henry sticks the hilt of the switchblade to his sleeping father’s neck and springs open the blade. The malignant teen then holds his writhing father down as he bleeds to death. On the TV, Pennywise and the chorus of children around him, urge Henry to “kill them all, kill them all,” meaning, the Losers’ Club, who pose a threat. IT, The ultimate bully, employs Henry as his right-hand thug to do his dirty work. And Henry, who still has scars on his head from the rock fight in the Barrens, is up to the task.
As Beverly heads out of her house, she discovers the front door is padlocked. Creeping in the shadows, her father asks her about the postcard, January Embers, he found in her underwear drawer. “Are you doing things with boys?” he asks. The things he hears people tell him about “Beaverly.” This time, Beverly does not submit to her father’s bullying ways and puts up a fight. Retreating in the bathroom, her sanctuary, she takes out her father with the porcelain toilet lid. One bully down—but the other, Pennywise, is waiting for Beverly, and grabs her.
Break into Three: Bill goes to Beverly’s house. He finds Al Marsh laid out on the bathroom floor in a pool of blood. And the words, writ large, on the ceiling in blood: YOU’LL DIE IF YOU TRY. This crosses the A and B stories together.
1. Gathering the Team – Bill must put the remainder of the Losers’ Club back together to save one of their own. He first enlists Richie at the arcade. Next, Eddie gets a call and then has to escape his overbearing mother, who’s a kind of threshold guardian at the door. Now, with the team assembled, each armed, including Mike with the pneumatic bolt pistol, the Losers’ Club returns to the Neibolt House—this time ready. Separately, each are weak—only by sticking together will they win.
2. Executing the Plan – Bill, Eddie, Stan, and Richie climb a rope down into the ancient well.
As the boys descend into the pit of hell, Beverly wakes up somewhere deep within the sewer—Pennywise’s lair. A mountain of old toys, wagons, dolls, and tricycles, all the articles of the lost Derry children. And above the heap of trash, the children float in a catatonic state. Beverly tries to leave but Pennywise stops her and reveals his Deadlights, his true form, which puts her into the same catatonia and makes her float.
3. High Tower Surprise – Mike starts his climb down into the well to join his friends. However, surprise… there’s Henry Bowers—his eyes wide and face bloody, he’s graduated to the fully fledged sociopath he always was. Bowers attacks Mike. They struggle for the pneumatic pistol. Mike gets the better of Bowers and knocks him down into the well. Unfortunately, Mike also loses all the cartridges for the pistol. Looks like he only has one shot left. Will that be enough?
Stan somehow separates himself from the group. It’s here where IT is the strongest, one-on-one. IT appears in the thing that scares him the most, the woman with the flute like in the painting—and attacks.
4. Dig, Deep Down – Bill, Eddie, Richie, and Mike see to Stan. However, Bill notices a boy in a familiar rain slicker scurrying away into the darkness. Grabbing up Mike’s pneumatic pistol, he goes after what looks like Georgie. The figure leads Bill into the chamber of IT. Beverly, her eyes blank white, floats above the ground like all of the taken Derry children. Bill can’t reach Beverly. He tells her he’ll be back for her and chases the Georgie-looking entity. Hasn’t he figured out by now that IT works best by dividing and conquering?
Mike, Eddie, Richie, Stan, and Ben find Beverly. Using the buddy system, they’re able to pull her down. Nothing seems to wake her. In a Sleeping Beauty moment, Ben plants a kiss on her lips. Can’t hurt, right? Nothing. Of course, that only works in fairy tales. Beverly wakes up. “January embers,” she says. “My heart burns their too,” Ben responds. The identity of the anonymous poet is revealed.
Bill finally finds Georgie. His little brother makes a plea for Bill to take him home. He misses Bill, mom, and dad. It’s a tough moment for Bill. His entire life, since the day his brother vanished, has been about this. He wants more than anything to take Georgie home. “But you’re not Georgie,” Bill says, arming the pneumatic gun and placing it to his brother forehead. Bill fires the bolt into “Georgie’s” skull. The body drops—and then transforms into Pennywise.
5. The Execution of the New Plan – Now the battle is on—the Losers’ Club against IT. They attempt to battle the unearthly creature from the sewers. It takes on every form that scares each member of the Losers’ Club—but they’re not scared, not today, as Richie screams, “Welcome to the Losers’ Club, asshole,” and belts the clown with a baseball bat. Pennywise takes on the form of Beverly’s abusive father—big mistake. She jams a rod of metal rebar down IT’s mouth.
As Pennywise writhes, dying. Bill says. “The reason you didn’t kill Beverly was that she wasn’t afraid. None of us are afraid. You are. You’ll starve.” The clown’s bone-white skull shatters like an eggshell as IT whispers one last word, “Fear,” and then drops out of sight into a drain far, far below.
Floating around like a macabre mobile above, the generations of lost Derry kids begin to descend. To their final resting place? Is the curse of IT over forever?
Bill locates Georgie’s raincoat. He couldn’t bring his little brother back, but at least Bill has closure. His friends—his true friends—comfort him.
Final Image: It’s September, and the Losers’ Club are in the Barrens holding court. Beverly tells them about a dream that she had, about them being together and older, and afraid. Was this a premonition of the future?
Bill makes his friends swear that if IT comes back in 27 years that they’ll come back too. Beverly is the first to rise, and then the rest follow reluctantly. Using a piece of glass, Bill slices the hand of each member, and together they hold hands in a circle and form a blood pact.
As the Losers’ Club decamp, one by one, only Bill and Beverly are left. Beverly is leaving for Portland, Maine in the morning and staying with her aunt as long as she wants. Beverly says that she never felt like a loser when she was with her friends. She rises and begins to leave. Bill rises and runs after her—if he doesn’t do it now he never will. He kisses her and they share a moment. Then she leaves. Bill lost his brother, but despite that, he has a fuller life and is transformed.