Stephen King has been known well for creating compelling horror stories from seemingly ordinary backgrounds, and “It” is surely one of his prime examples. As the story and characters are vividly and realistically established in this big, ambitious modern horror work, we are gradually drawn to its captivating tale about a group of kids confronting an unspeakable evil entity which has haunted their small town in Maine for numerous years, and we come to brace ourselves as King rolls his story and characters toward the climactic confrontation between good and evil.
As a guy who voraciously read “It” and King’s many other works during his loony adolescent years, I was certainly intrigued when it was announced several years ago that “It” would be made into a feature film, but then I and others heard about the troubles surrounding the pre-production process of the movie. While the production eventually began in last year, I could not help but skeptical about whether the movie would be successful or not.
Anyway, I am glad to report that the movie does its job as well as intended, but I am also a bit disappointed to see that it is not as special as I hoped. No, there is nothing particularly wrong with the movie, and it has enough good elements to engage me, but I somehow observed the movie from the distance as thinking more about what I imagined while reading King’s novel a long time ago. This is surely a competent horror film with some nice scary moments, but I was not that terrified even while appreciating its goodies.
Although moving the main background of a half of King’s novel from 1958 to 1989, the movie is mostly faithful to the novel, and that is evident from its terrific opening sequence, which is unfolded on one gloomy rainy day in Derry, Maine. We see a young boy named George (Jackson Robert Scott) happily going outside with a paper boat made by his older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher, who was wonderful in “St. Vincent” (2014) and “Midnight Special” (2016)), but then he comes to encounter something in the storm drain when his paper boat happens to go down into the drain. Shrouded in ominous gloominess right from its first shot, the opening sequence effectively sets the tone, and it eventually culminates to a horrendous moment as the entity in question reveals its fiendish nature to George.
Six months later, summer begins for kids as the last day of their school is over, and Bill and his friends Richie (Finn Wolfhard, who was memorable in TV series “Stranger Things”), Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), and Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) are ready to enjoy their summer days like any other students, but, as reflected by one brief shot showing the notice of curfew time, their town has been disturbed by a series of incidents of missing kids since George was gone missing. While his parents believe George is dead, Bill is determined to try as much as he can for finding his brother, and his friends are willing to help him because, well, it looks like a fun adventure for their summer days.
The first half of the movie focuses on how they are joined by three other kids: Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and Beverly (Sophia Lillis), the only girl in the group. Like Bill and his friends, they have struggled with each own problems inside or outside their school, and these seven kids stick together as the members of the ‘Losers Club’ when they confront a gang of mean bullies including Henry (Nicholas Hamilton), the most vicious one among the bunch.
But there is a far bigger threat out there, and each of them has a frightening experience because of that entity responsible for George’s missing, which is mainly manifested into the shape of a creepy clown named Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård). As they come to delve more into their supernatural matter, the entity, which is simply called ‘It’ in King’s novel, threatens them more, and the movie accordingly doles out another series of tense, spooky moments.
Director Andy Muschietti, who previously directed “Mama” (2013), did a skillful job of accumulating enough mood and suspense on the screen. The cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung, who has been mainly known for his contribution to Park Chan-wook’s works, frequently suggests something dark and insidious in corners, and so does the score by Benjamin Wallfisch. The period background details in the film are authentic on the whole, and you may be a little amused to spot the movie posters of “Gremlins” (1984) and “A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child” (1989).
However, the movie does not entirely satisfy me especially during its second half, which becomes a bit too repetitive in its shock and awe and then arrives at a rather ponderous action climax unfolded within the underground sewer system of the town. In the end, the movie merely feels like a warm-up process for whatever will come next in the following sequel, and I came out of the screening room with a certain degree of dissatisfaction.
While Jaeden Lieberher and Finn Wolfhard draw our attention first due to their more notable acting careers, they and other young main performers in the film are effortless in their ensemble acting, and that is the main reason why the movie works. On the opposite, Bill Skarsgård lacks the twisted sense of humor in Tim Curry’s deliciously over-the-top performance in the 1990 TV miniseries which is based on King’s novel, but he is as nasty and spooky as required at least, and he is certainly having his own dark fun during his scenes.
Overall, “It” is better than the 1990 TV miniseries version in terms of storytelling and technical aspects, and I recommend the movie mainly because I appreciated its good mood and performance, but I don’t think it will be remembered as one of the best movies based on King’s works. They tried, and they succeeded to some degrees anyway, so I will not grumble despite my reservation.