Written by Shawn Eastridge
It works on so many levels that I’m more than a little bummed I can’t say I loved it. (Loved ‘It’? The use of the word ‘it’ in this review is going to get confusing. Let’s just move past that and get on with it – oops, there it is again. And again. Oh no. Help.)
Let me be clear: I did enjoy the film.
Everything involving the kids, their friendship and their personal struggles is gold. But the Pennywise/horror stuff? Not so much. That’s nothing against Bill Skarsgård who is excellent as the ancient evil being that haunts the town of Derry, but the scares as orchestrated by director Andy Muschietti become repetitive and tiring. Each horror sequence is structured the same way: kid sees something creepy, goes off to investigate on their own, something terrifying jumps out at them, Pennywise shows up to add the obligatory punctuation mark to the sequence. What’s fun and scary at first becomes dull and tiring. I wanted the scares to cut deeper and be more cerebral and creepy instead of being bombarded by loud noises and shots of Pennywise lunging at the camera.
I’ll give Muschietti this much though: his interpretation does recognize the source material’s core strength: the Losers Club and the coming-of-age elements. When I first read It a couple years ago, I was surprised to discover a poignant, thoughtful and affecting story about growing up and bidding childhood farewell. It’s a beautiful novel and my favorite of Stephen King’s works. I was concerned the new movie would jettison this more thoughtful angle in favor of ‘oooo, here comes the scary clown.’ And while the ‘scary clown angle’ is present and borders on the cusp of obnoxiousness, Muschietti includes enough of the kids and their friendship to add additional layers to his adaptation.
Where It triumphs is in the quieter moments: the kids swimming and joking at the water hole, riding around on bikes exploring the town and being there for each other in their moments of need. I found myself genuinely moved by these characters and their interactions and I can’t praise this ensemble enough. You always take a risk when your cast is made up of kids. There are few things more grating than a bad child performance and with a movie like It that relies so heavily on its young actors, that can make or break the deal. Thankfully It features one of the finest young casts I’ve seen with newcomer Sophia Lillis being the standout as the Losers Club’s only female member.
It might not quite reach the high bar of modern horror classics such as The Babadook, It Follows or The Witch (The VVitch?), but it’s head and shoulders above the more recent substandard offerings of the genre. I’m excited to see what the inevitable sequel, which will focus on the grown up versions of the Losers Club, has to offer. I think Muschietti has the chops to pull it off if he tones down the more generic tropes associated with the genre and focuses more on the characters and their bond with one another.