New adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel basically covers the first half of his book by focusing on the characters as kids. The children of Derry, Maine have something to be afraid of as someone…or something…is stalking them and taking them, including Bill Denbrough’s little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) gathers his band of misfit friends to investigate and finds that a number of children die or go missing in Derry every twenty-seven years. They also find that an evil entity is involved that takes the form of a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) and worst of all, the group of friends now have the fiendish clown’s attention.
New version of King’s best selling book is a well enough made film by Mama director Andy Muschietti from a script by Cary Fukunaga, Chase Palmer and Gary Dauberman. Like his first film this flick has some wonderfully creepy visuals, but isn’t really all that scary. There are certainly some effective moments in It, but the film never really gets intense or digs it’s nails in to really frighten you. It works and entertains, but is obviously a horror made to appeal to the mainstream audience who doesn’t venture too far from the generic PG-13 horror fair that is all too common lately. The film is R-rated and has a few gruesome moments, but never gets too intense or brutal, so it doesn’t alienate the average movie goer who is only going due to the Stephen King name being attached or having read the book. Folks who watch everything horror will probably find it entertaining enough, yet leave wishing it had really turned the screws instead of mildly twisting them. In It‘s favor, there are also some very well done coming of age story elements, such as dealing with bullies (Nicholas Hamilton), being perceived as different and first love, as between Bill and Bev (Sophia Lillis). They work well enough to endear us to the characters, so we do care when things start to really pick up. The film is moderately paced and takes time to tell it’s story…technically, it’s half of the story…and it’s only in the second act when the horror elements become steady and as such, it’s delivers some fun stuff, just nothing truly frightening. Much like with Mama, one leaves feeling it could have been more had Muschietti really went for the throat. He seems to be a director who likes to play it safe and when wanting to appeal to a mainstream audience with a horror…even an R-rated one…studios generally like to play it safe.
The cast are strong and that helps even if the horror elements felt like pulled punches at times. The young cast members are all good in their roles with Jaeden Lieberher and Sophia Lillis being standouts. Lieberher conveys well a boy not willing to give up hope that his lost little brother will someday come home and Lillis is very strong as a young girl becoming a young woman and catching her widowed father’s attention in the worst way. The rest of the kids play their fairly stereotypical roles well with the fat kid (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the Jewish kid (Wyatt Oleff ), the wise-ass (Finn Wolfhard), the black kid (Chosen Jacobs) and the sickly kid (Jack Dylan Grazer) all present and accounted for. As the main villain, Bill Skarsgård is certainly effective as Pennywise, but his performance is enhanced with a lot of state-of-the-art SPFX whereas Tim Curry achieved more with simply his performance in the modestly budgeted 1990 TV movie version. Curry was creepier without being surrounded by CGI, though Skarsgård certainly has his moments.
Overall, this was an entertaining flick, but clearly a horror flick made for mainstream audiences that don’t regularly choose horror. It’s made for the folks that flock to big name adaptations or the works of A-list directors, but avoid the more intense stuff that usually premiers on VOD or in limited runs. Mama director Andy Muschietti directs well and the film looks great, though plays it safe scare-wise with not getting too intense or brutal as to scare away the wider audience for which this was made. Either way, the success of It means studios will green-light more R-rated horror flicks, which isn’t a bad thing for a genre drowning in PG-13 teen-centric chillers as of late.
3 (out of 4) red balloons.