It Review: High Emotion, Minimal Fear

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What was the last true horror movie that strung up emotion and feeling for the characters? Even Get Out, though fantastic, relied on generic archetypes and sociopolitical commentary to achieve something higher than mere thrills. Andy Muschietti’s It does a wonderful job establishing most of its characters, proving that giving a horror film protagonists to root for can save just about any attempt. Because without them, It would be an almost scare-free dud.

After so much hype, and being adapted from one of Stephen King’s most notorious works, the film’s attempt at thrills are mostly cheap jump scares and some overblown CGI. Unnaturally loud noises are thrown in merely to get the audience jittery, not in service of the story or its world. Then, when we do see some monsters, they unfold into all kinds of horror with loads of teeth and blah, blah, blah. After all is said and done, and the credits begin to roll, you realize It just simply didn’t know how to be an effective horror movie.

But it did know how to be an effective coming of age tale. The Losers, as the group of seven calls themselves, work really well together. It follows a group of 12-ish-year-olds as they navigate a town seething with horror, from creepy townsfolk to bullies, and oh yes, a crazy clown monster. The film’s R-rating benefits it, as the conversations the Losers have, profane as they may be, feel authentic to their age (read: talking big when you’re too young to have anything to prove). The result is a horror flick with meaningful laughs and comedic touches. But even these occasionally get in the way of the film’s ultimate goal.

For its first two acts, It really wants to have it all: relatable adolescents simply going through life intercut with a shapeshifting clown making kids disappear. The tone is wild and all over the place until the more cohesive third act streamlines the two and succeeds in turning up the scares.

As for the cast, the young actors prove, as is always the risk, to be a mixed bag, with standouts including Jaeden Lieberher and Finn Wolfhard. And then there’s Pennywise, as created through a creepy turn from Bill Skarsgård. He likely won’t go down in the genre as an iconic villain, but he gets the job done.

The film of course also sets up the sequel adapting the other half of King’s novel (no spoilers here), which is already in development. It works better here than most superhero films do, as the setup is directly tied to the kids’ arc to face their fears as they grow up. It’s a sequel I look forward to, as it has the potential to be more interesting than this almost bipolar take on the novel. But before that happens, Muschietti needs to learn how to inject natural horror into his films. It may be successful where most genre fare dare not go, a genuinely fulfilling emotional hook, but it also misuses the genre’s fundamental pull. And thus, It merely floats when it could have soared. Grade: B-

By Matt Dougherty

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