It isn’t as scary as it is unsettling. The movie doesn’t throw dozens of shocking or terrifying moments into your lap as much as creating a lingering paranoia and fear that those moments are always lurking around the corner. Not so much fear but the anticipation of fear drives the movie, that it isn’t what Pennywise the clown has hidden up his polka dot sleeve, but the fact that he has something hidden there at all.
Based off the seminal Stephen King novel, It is entertaining but not completely engrossing. It generates a mood and ambiance in which there is always unease, but doesn’t fully pull us into its blood-splattered, black goo-filled world. We follow the story of “The Losers’ Club,” a group of misfit teens who when not being fed knuckle sandwiches from school bullies, are being hunted and preyed upon by Pennywise the clown. The unceremonious leader of the group is Bill (played by Jaeden Lieberher), an earnest, well-meaning boy with a stutter whose younger brother was captured by the maniacal clown. Ben’s close friends include Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) and Richie (Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things’ fame). Also joining the group is new kid Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), home-schooled Mike (Chosen Jacobs) and Beverly (Sophia Lillis), a slightly-taller girl whose friendly demeanor and ruby red hair make her the romantic muse of several of the boys.
The moments where the gang is all together are both the strongest and weakest of the film. Director Andy Muschietti has a natural penchant for portraying the “talking shit”-ness of adolescence on-screen, with Richie conjuring laughs with every other thing he says. But its in these moments where the fearful mood dissipates. We get too many jokes and sly remarks that it doesn’t feel so much as a horror film as much as a really good 80s teen comedy about the coming of age and killer clowns.
I haven’t read King’s novel, so I can’t attest to how accurate the portrayal of the boys was in the movie vs. the book, or if the group in the book was more funny or serious. But the overabundance of humor makes It a little less immersing than it could have been. Still, it is beautifully shot and well-acted by all of the child stars and their adult and clown counterparts (Bill Skarsgard is a frightening delight as Pennywise.) And just with all Stephen King stories, It speaks remarkably true to growing up and childhood, and will definitely conjure memories of your younger ears, both delightful and terrifying.