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It, based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King and directed by Andy Muschietti, is a gigantic mess of mismatched tones that ends up providing far more unintentional laughs than it does scares.
Before we go any further, it’s worth pointing out that I haven’t read the book, nor have I seen the 1990 miniseries. All of this is coming from a fresh, outsider’s perspective.
In the town of Derry, Maine, a group of seven children known as The Losers Club are terrorized by a mysterious supernatural creature that takes the form of an evil clown called Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård).
It is absolutely bizarre that in a world where regular clowns can be plenty scary, a clown that is actually trying to scare you ends up being unintentionally hilarious. Despite Bill Skarsgård’s best efforts, Pennywise is by far the least scary thing in It.
His bag of tricks gets old pretty quick – there’s the big toothy CGI face, running straight at the camera and screaming, and trying to make the word “float” sound creepy – all of them accompanied by an obnoxious assortment of loud noises. Pennywise’s attempts to frighten start off silly and quickly become predictable.
Throughout the film, the supernatural entity tries to get under the kids’ skin by showing them visions that reflect their own personal demons. It’s in these moments that It comes closest to being freaky, but even then, it’s not really scary. The best ones are fairly Evil Dead-esque and indulge in gratuitous horror spectacle, like a bathroom sink turning into a fountain of blood or a deformed leaper chasing a child. Entertaining? Yeah. Scary? No.
The production values are high and there a few cool set piece moments, including a fairly ridiculous haunted house. What makes It truly fall apart is its complete and utter tone-deafness. This is a movie that juggles a raunchy ’80s coming-of-age story and overblown supernatural horror about as gracefully as a drunk clown on a unicycle in a thunderstorm.
Whether it’s an endless barrage of dick jokes or a rockin’ musical montage of the kids cleaning a blood-covered bathroom, It always finds a way to disrupt whatever mood it was trying to achieve in the first place. You could make a convincing argument that this movie is actually meant to be a comedy. Where else are you gonna see a group of kids barely make it out of a horrific ordeal, only for an overbearing, overweight parent to slut shame one of them right after?
That’s actually a thing that happens. After a terrible encounter with Pennywise that leaves the kids terrified and a few of them injured, Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer)’s mother comes to take him away and takes the time to insult Beverly (Sophia Lillis) for allegedly being with a lot of boys. What was the intent there? You can’t take something like that seriously.
The Losers Club is a fun bunch and all the kid actors turn in good performances. It is pretty annoying that even though they eventually figure out the clown is trying to isolate them, they still keep wandering off and falling for his incredibly obvious lures. Loud mouth Richie (Finn Wolfhard) gets quite a few genuine laughs but has just many cringe-worthy lines to make up for it.
The open nature of the movie’s ending robs it of a proper sense of closure, which makes the already fairly grueling 2+ hours runtime feel like an even bigger waste of time. The evil entity comes back once every 27 years, so unless the next movie is about how they all return as adults and then literally nothing happens, then yeah, it’s hard to feel like that much was accomplished.
Delaying the evil is not really as satisfying as defeating the evil and while the kids confronting their demons and wrapping up their respective storylines (for the moment) is handled well, it all rings a bit hollow.
In the end, It is a pretty entertaining ride, but for all the wrong reasons. If It is faithful to its source material, then I’m glad I haven’t read the book.