“It” has got it all. Well, everything but the “it” factor.
Anyone unfamiliar with the Stephen King classic might find “It” a surprise—not only for its scares but for its humor and heart. “It” is a well-rounded, well-directed, well-told story that, at times, is as deep as the well from which its horror floats.
And “It” rises near the top of the more than 70 King adaptations that have appeared on TV and film. At the same time, its balance between fright and fun prevents either from fully setting sail while needed plot details go missing, likely submerged by the weight of the book.
Their absence is fitting, in that “It” is about the missing children of Derry, Maine. It’s one child, in particular, that gets stuttering Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) walking the walk—given his struggle to talk it—to uncover the mysterious disappearance. He’s joined by his fellow “Losers,” juvenile jokester Richie (Finn Wolfhard), OCD Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Bar Mitzvah-bound Wyatt (Stanley Uris).
Their banter certainly gives “It” its R rating—think “Supe[R] 8” or “Strange[R] Things,” even though “It” the book preceded both—but lacks the charm and truth of those, and other, coming-of-age stories. Thankfully, new-kid-on-the-block Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and suggested street-corner-star Beverly (Sophia Lillis) bring some winning notes and love to the Losers. And this is surely the first of many times audiences will pay for Lillis’s cinematic services. She is sweet, superb, and primed for a different, better kind of stardom.
The real winner of “It,” however, is the one who haunts them: Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). The clown is close to being a classic, with its eyes, voice, makeup, and movements as menacingly unnerving for the film’s victims as it is its viewers. Skarsgård’s Pennywise is to Tim Curry’s (from the 1990 made-for-television version) what Heath Ledger’s Joker was to Jack Nicholson’s.
And like Ledger’s 2008 film, director Andy Muschietti treats “It” with the seriousness its property deserves. He also gives “It” some iconic imagery, especially for the genre. His scares are never cheap, and the scariest ones are upsettingly real—sadly reminiscent of the horrors too often seen in courtrooms and on the nightly news.
But in-depth analysis into Derry’s decades-long disturbances is exactly what “It” needed. There seems to be more to “It,” beyond what the children uncover. The adults, meanwhile, appear only to be full of it. Is their aloofness intentional, as part of a larger commentary on adults’ actions and priorities? Readers of the book would know. Those not hip to “It,” however, are left wondering.
Still, for their faults and the film’s many strengths, the message to both the adult characters and potential adult viewers is clear: Get with “It.”
3.5 out of 5