The big-screen version of Stephen King’s “It” is a compendium of horror-movie clichés in which its demonic signature clown character is rather a bore. Rating: 1.5 stars out of 4.
Childhood is hell.
Says Stephen King, that’s who. In “It.”
Movie Review ★½
‘It,’ with Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Bill Skarsgård. Directed by Andy Muschietti, from a screenplay by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman, based on the novel by Stephen King. 135 minutes. Rated R for violence/horror, bloody images and for language. Several theaters.
In the small Maine town of Derry, bullies spend every waking hour harassing and torturing weaker kids.
Adults are awful, from the leering pharmacist to the smothering overprotective mother to the daughter-molesting dad.
And then there’s the clown (played by Bill Skarsgård).
Bulbous white greasepaint dome. Blood-red lips. And, my goodness, what great big sharp teeth you have.
The better to eat your face off, dearie.
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Childhood: courtesy of Mr. King. Filtered through the pedestrian sensibilities of director Andy Muschietti, who seemingly never met a horror-movie cliché he couldn’t incorporate into his adaptation of King’s thousand-page-plus mega-opus. (It was previously incarnated on the small screen in a 1990 miniseries starring Tim Curry as the evil clown.)
Creaking doors? Got ‘em. Spooky stairs descending to an inky cellar? Step right down. Off-camera moans and cries? We hear you.
Rotting, decaying haunted house? So much rot. So much decay. A kid would have to be crazy to venture inside. The kids in “It” do indeed venture. Twice. Clown-generated terrors they will see. Screams they will scream.
So many, many screams.
A funny thing, though. The more Muschietti piles on the CG terrors — heavy on the red stuff — and the more he shows of the demonic doings of the clown Pennywise, the less terrifying Pennywise becomes. Until eventually he transmogrifies into something of a bore, a cackling, kid-consuming one-trick clowny.
His victims, outcasts all, are paper-thin characters barely defined beyond signature characteristics: One stutters, another is fat, another is a hypochondriac, yet another is a curse machine. Only one is a girl (played by Sophia Lilli), and she is the most fully dimensional character of them all, thanks to Lilli’s carefully modulated performance.
The clown feeds on their fears, and the only way they can defeat him is to join forces and present a united, fear-free front. By doing that they set the stage for the inevitable sequel, which will concentrate on adult iterations of these same characters.
Based on the weakness of this inaugural effort, that’s a prospect to be viewed with true dread.