“It” is the latest highly-anticipated adaptation of a very popular Stephen King novel. Though, much like Jordan Pelle's very effective “Get Out” from earlier this year, “It” isn’t really a horror film. Instead, what it is…or… I guess...what “It” is, is a creepy tale of a small town and an angry clown.
Back in 1990 King did a TV-mini series of “It” which was set - at the start - in 1960. Here the setting is the late 80’s - in Old Derry, Maine - a place you don’t want to grow-up in if you’re a kid, since children there disappear at an alarming rate.One rainy day, Bill (played by Jaeden Lieberher) sends younger brother Georgie outside to play with a paper sailboat. Soon the boat floats into a sewer hole. That’s where Georgie meets the evil Pennywise the Clown. He gives-off kind of Hannibal Lecter vibe - calm and intense. In an stunningly violent scene Pennywise (an unrecognizable Bill Skarsgard) bites-off one of Georgie’s arms and drags him down into the sewer. The young boy becomes the latest of the “the missing”.
Months later Bill is still in denial that his brother is dead. He and his core group of outcast friends - who are constant targets for the neighborhood bullies - decide to dedicate their summer to tracking down the evil clown and finding the missing kids.
“It” provides a few good jolts early on, but as the story expands to include more young characters (six good guys, a mysterious girl, and the gang of bullies - all troubled in their own ways), this film turns into an episodic and dragged-out 80s coming-of-age movie. “It” is primarily about friendship, growing-up and facing one’s fears, while, at the same time, outsmarting a psycho clown hell bent on feasting on children.
Andy Muschietti’s direction provides for too much set-up before many of the intended scares. Seeing Pennywise’s trademark red balloon floating in the background moments before he appears eliminates any element of surprise. And, frankly, there’s too much of the clown in the story, lessening his impact as an effective villain. By the time the climax comes we’ve seen all his tricks.
Part of the popularity of the novel and mini-series is that you’re never quite sure what’s based in reality and what’s being imagined by the kids. But this version is so all over the place and heavy-handed, it's more frustrating than intriguing.
The relationship thread between the young friends is believable, but nothing we haven’t seen before. Actually, a quiet, final scene may be the best of “It” all. Where the film falls short is in the tension and thrills department.