The following contains mild spoilers for IT, both the book and the new movie. You have been warned!
I am a hypocrite. Aren't most parents? I have been looking for the right Stephen King book to use as an entrance point for my teenage son, P.J., to get into the horror author's oeuvre. And in each book, I find a red flag, one or two things that, as his dad, I'd like to protect his 13-year-old imagination from... for just a little while longer. Why am I a hypocrite? Because when I was his age, I was mainlining King works such as Carrie, Pet Sematary, The Dead Zone, Cujo... whatever I could get my hands on. And I turned out... well, I have less issues than you'd think. Yet, I've been doing a "Do as I say, not as I did" approach to IT -- the book and the new movie. IT, in particular, has that orgy scene in the book. And countless horrific scares that could psychologically mess this poor kid up. But what about the movie? Could this be the gateway I've been seeking?
For those unaware, IT tells the tale of a centuries-old threat that feasts on the evil town of Derry, Maine. The creature takes the form of a sinister clown, and strikes early when young Georgie Denbrough watches his paper boat float down a drain. Rocked by the loss of his kid brother, Bill Denbrough vows to go after the clown -- forming a close knit group of picked-on Losers to help him on his terrifying quest.
IT is equal parts coming-of-age teen drama and bone-chilling horror, and IT director Andres Muschietti finds the proper balance between the bonding unity of the Losers' Club (crucial to ANY telling of this tale) and the moments when he's supposed to jolt you out of your skin in terror. The struggle with recommending IT for your older kid is that there are so many funny, sweet and relatable moments in the story, and in the movie, that I want them to see and experience.
But I can't overlook the gruesome scenes that make this version of IT such a scary ride.
This isn't a straight adaptation of Stephen King's novel, though it's the closest in tone to any recent King movie we have seen. And the clown isn't even the greatest threat. That belongs to Henry Bowers, a psychotic bully who is constantly terrorizing the Losers. Some of the violence conducted by Henry is tough to watch on screen, and your kids will have a hard time with him as a realistic danger.
Pennywise, meanwhile, isn't as disturbing as I initially feared. IT can be psychological torture, playing on one's natural fears. But this on-screen take is more direct with his horror, leaning on jump-scares (though not cheap ones). That being said, IT doesn't shy away from any disturbing imagery, and it's hard to gauge what will unnerve your teenager.
I keep saying "teenager" because even parents on the fence about letting their kids see IT should know that it's hard R, and is NOT appropriate for any young children at all. This is nightmare fuel, full stop. However, for older kids, nightmare fuel can be exciting. I'm on the fence about P.J. He hasn't done much horror -- Gremlins and Monster Squad, which he liked but didn't love -- but for most kids 13 and up, I think IT can be fair game.
As always, every kid is different, and you know more than anyone else what your child is capable of. If you have more questions, because your kid really wants to check this out, hit the comments section below, or email me direct at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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