I was really hoping for this movie to be good for all the standard reasons: it’s a Stephen King story; we’re living in a golden age of horror cinema; good response from critics and audiences alike. But I was basically disappointed. The film has a lot of problems. The kid actors give pretty bad performances on the whole and are thinly written as well. It’s unfortunate that the movie needs to include all seven main characters; it might have done damage to the book to thin them out, but the movie would probably have been better. I’ve liked Jaeden Lieberhaber a lot before, in both Midnight Special and The Confirmation, but his character isn’t very good here and basically all the other kids, with a couple of exceptions, aren’t very good and the way in which the script kind of pauses to give them all a nice dramatic moment from time to time is really clumsy. Chosen Jacobs comes off the worst in his monologue, a really sloppy bit of exposition that comes out of nowhere. The film has an initially atmospheric look, but it very quickly devolves into the kind of horror movie that depends on cheesy, increasingly less effective jump scares rather than any kind of atmosphere or dread or suspense. The scene where Bill encounters Georgie in the basement is a great example. It’s visually kind of beautiful with Georgie in his yellow raincoat and then it starts to get really creepy and then suddenly Pennywise just bursts out of the water screaming at the top of his lungs and you just laugh. Oh, by the way, can we talk about how often people escape It’s clutches by simply closing a door? Bill just dashes up the stairs and closes the basement door and this is, for reasons not entirely clear, entirely effective in defeating the evil spirit. The same thing happens when Stan is being menaced by a weird woman out of a painting; he’s out the study door and when he shuts it, it’s game over for the evil spirit. I mean, It can transport itself through sinks and sewer lines and slide projectors, but slam a door in his face and he’s******. And, look, while we’re talking about that painting, what the hell even was that? Aside from Pennywise, which I’ll get to shortly, this horror movie has the weakest set of villains I’ve ever seen.
The painting lady is kind of funny actually; it’s not typically a good idea to have a “terrifying” villain from your horror movie resemble Mr. Potato Head. And that damned headless zombie in the Library basement. Boy, is he hilarious. I burst out laughing as soon as he started “running.” Honestly, someone needs to put the Benny Hill music under that scene at some point. It’s laughable. While we’re on the subject of all the weird supernatural stuff these characters have going on, can I just comment on how stupid all these characters are. We’ll have a scene where, for instance, a kid is pursued by a “frightening” woman who has literally come to life out of a painting . . . and then next scene? He’s just kicking it with his friends; just hanging out, you know, having fun and being chill, like one does after nearly dying at the hands of an evil demon from a painting. At one point, Ben is letting everyone else in on his research about Derry and he’s got a lot of stats right at his fingertips about death rates and disappearances and historical tragedies. You know what he DOESN’T mention? THE HEADLESS ZOMBIE THAT TRIED TO MURDER HIM. I mean, you’re trying to prove Derry is evil, I’d go right to the fact that it is populated with HEADLESS ZOMBIES THAT TRY TO MURDER PEOPLE. The stats can wait. Man, this kid would be great at fantasy baseball. Nothing distracts him from the numbers. These children seem incredibly traumatized by their individual experiences in the moment, but then they never bother telling anyone about them. So strange.
I don’t know, this is coming off as very negative, so let me talk briefly about the things I did like. Number one on the list is Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise. He’s genuinely unsettling and frightening and when he’s on screen, the movie is both scary and fun, but unfortunately he’s not actually on screen that much, because of all the secondary villains the movie throws at us and how much time we spend with the uninteresting main characters. And the movie has a couple of incredibly effective scenes. When it gets really crazy, it does kind of give you a feeling of vertigo and unreality, which is exactly how you should feel. The slide projector scene is a perfect example; when Pennywise himself comes out of the screen on his hands and knees in that gargantuan form, it literally made me dizzy. A later shot captures Pennywise, in his lair, dancing furiously with a totally blank expression on his face and it’s maybe the scariest moment in the entire film. And I’ll throw a bone to the best child performance, Jack Grazer as the hypochondriac Eddie; his constantly furrowed brow and general attitude gives him the air of a neurotic forty-year-old which is dead perfect. And I liked the idea, which the film only hinted at, of the adults in the town being corrupted by the evil influence of It. Stephen Bogaert is really good as Beverly’s father; the scenes of Beverly and her father are really creepy and disturbing. It’s too bad; there’s so much potential here, but the movie really just doesn’t work on an emotional level; the main thing I took away from the movie really was how damn cool the execution of Pennywise himself was. He’s a compelling, but underserved character, surrounded by a movie that’s overly cheesy, far too scattered, stuffed with too many poorly written and poorly performed characters. 2 stars.
tl;dr – a magnificent Pennywise is about the only thing that works in this movie; poor performances, flat characters, increasingly stupid jumpscares & a scattered focus all detract. 2 stars.