IT Chapter Two hits theaters this week. Get your tickets here!
This post contains minor spoilers for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Every generation of kids has a rough go of it. Ever-shifting cultural norms all but guarantee a new and scary world for each new wave of children to take their first terrifying steps into adulthood. Nowadays though, there are a couple extra wrinkles of global climate catastrophe and jingoistic nationalism for the youth to deal with alongside puberty. Totally chill stuff. If recent films like Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, IT, and The Kid Who Would Be King are any indication though, the kids will be alright, no thanks to any adults.
Starting off chronologically, Scary Stories takes place in the '60s right as the Vietnam War is kicking into high gear along with the election of Nixon. Kids are being sent off into a senseless death before they can even become adults, and rampant racism on the home front doesn't make it any safer for some fellow Americans. With these real-life fears everywhere, the creatures from Sarah Bellows’ book are able to zero in on the anxieties and insecurities of the town’s kids. They act as funhouse mirrors of what plagues them, from the fear of becoming stuck in your small town like a scarecrow on a stick or having the smothering love of your mother become a stalking unrelenting phantom that absorbs you entirely. Stella (Zoe Colletti) and her friends are left to defend themselves against the monsters when the adults in their town either won't listen to them or rush to place blame on innocent outsiders like Ramón (Michael Garza), a draft dodger just looking to escape his fate. In fact, the origin of the monstrous book and its ghouls originates within the town, from a wealthy industrial family, the Bellows. The Bellows’ family mill put the town on the map but they had also been secretly poisoning the town with mercury, killing children, until their daughter Sarah (Kathleen Pollard) found out. Her stories then became an extension of that terror, going after more children, until Stella agrees to finally tell her story. In having Stella embody her own voice of empathy and warning rather than that of fear and rage, Sarah can have hope that future generations aren’t going to suffer like hers did.
Jump to the '80s, and we come to another town that is rotten from its very foundation. Derry, Maine in IT looks okay until you start to peel away the facade of normalcy. Kids in Derry are terrorized on all sides, from bullies to abusive parents, but the real terror comes from the town’s awful history of letting children get taken by Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) every 27 years. Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott) is taken away at the beginning of the film and nearly a year later his brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) is the only one still doing anything about it. The rest of the town's adults are stuck in a sort of stupor of grief and resigned acceptance. Fed up with their lack of action, Bill and his friends actively work together to solve what happened even while being hounded by bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton). The bullies, like Pennywise and his varied manifestations, pursue the kids with no reprieve as if the whole town is in on it. Bill and his “Losers Club” realize this has been going on within the town for centuries. When a community has, consciously or unconsciously, agreed that the fate of its children is of no concern, you can safely say the adults have utterly failed. So The Losers Club must oppose It themselves. This group is an escape, a way for them to bond over personal trauma and unite against what tries to break them down. Beverly is able to incapacitate her abusive father, Mike fights back against Henry Bowers, and as a group they are able to rescue each other and force It to retreat deep into the sewers. IT Chapter Two will see The Losers Club reform as adults to fight It again once and for all, but their strength is founded upon the actions they started as kids.
The youth of today get their chance to fight as well, with the throwback adventure film The Kid Who Would Be King. This film is maybe the most explicit about the responsibilities falling on the shoulders of children. It starts with the unrest of Brexit (unnamed), and the general global geo-political climate being directly responsible for giving rise to the evil witch Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson). She feeds off of the world’s despair and fragmentation, the world’s headlines acting as a delicious five-course meal every day. When young Alex (Louis Serkis) pulls out Excalibur, Merlin (Angus Imrie) shows up to inform him that he and every kid he knights are now faced with defeating Morgana and her undead army, and in four days time. Alex has to gather his Knights Of The Round Table, like Arthur before him, even when no one takes him seriously. Everyone not knighted, including all adults, are completely unaffected when night falls and the undead attack, sparing them from action and also keeping them oblivious to the dangers facing them all. It is a shame that this film fared so poorly at the box office, but it is apropos since it directly addresses how no one ever wants to heed warnings from younger generations. So much of the runtime is spent with Alex pleading his case to those who don’t care or won’t bother to listen. Only when his friends and family take the time to pay attention are they able to work together successfully to defeat Morgana. Merlin, in his infinite wisdom, even appears as a teenager himself to talk to the kids on their level. The Kid Who Would Be King is absolutely unabashed about its feelings on teamwork, chivalry, and honesty, giving a big rebuke to cynicism. This film fully believes in the power of the youngest generation to enact change despite whatever odds they may face.
Children are constantly asked to accomplish way more than what should be expected of them. No kids should have to confront nightmare creatures, shape-shifting demon clowns, or evil witch armies, but they will if they have to! And while adults argue and bicker over who is responsible for what, the kids of today will be the ones to take the action necessary for the future.