'It' Reviews: Good, But Not as Scary as Stephen King Fans Might Want

More 'Stand By Me' than scary.

Warner Bros.

The shapeshifting evil known as It has returned to terrify and eat children in a big screen film adaptation of Stephen King’s massive horror classic. And despite some thinking that the scares dull as the film progresses, it looks like It is more than worth checking out.

CinemaBlend’s Eric Eisenberg acknowledged that Bill Skarsgard had big shoes (hah) to fill when it came to taking on the role of The Dancing Clown, Pennywise, but thought the actor did the part justice and then some.

Of course, one of the great curiosities of this adaptation of It is the treatment of Pennywise The Dancing Clown, and the most appropriate adjective that springs to mind is “otherworldly.” For all the lacking of the 1990 miniseries, Tim Curry’s original performance as Pennywise set a bar so high that it seemed unfair to expect Bill Skarsgard to compare, and yet it’s not hard to imagine this interpretation becoming just as iconic, if not more so. It is admittedly a take that benefits from a higher budget, more artistic direction, and much better effects, but none of those factors should lessen the credibility and impressiveness of the young actor’s work. As if the makeup and Victorian-era costume weren’t frightening enough, Skarsgard sells Pennywise as a creature who clearly isn’t inhabiting his own skin, and his cold smiles and unnatural eye movements are downright disturbing. There are moments where CGI plays a little too heavy a role, but ultimately this is a movie monster that will be featured in nightmares worldwide for decades.

However, some weren’t as impressed with the film’s spin on the character. Chris Nashawaty from Entertainment Weekly wrote that the film suffered a little from monster overexposure, a frequent criticism of horror films.

Less successful are the sections that trot out Pennywise. The more we see of him, the less scary he becomes. Unless you’re really afraid of clowns, he just seems kind of cartoony after a while. Halfway through the film, I was trying to figure out why the grease-painted bogeyman’s M.O. felt so familiar (I hadn’t read the book). Just then, the kids on screen went past a theater showing A Nightmare on Elm Street 5. That’s it: Pennywise is Freddy Krueger — a small-town specter stalking kids in their minds. Like the Freddy films, It doesn’t shy away from nastiness and definitely earns its R rating. There’s implied incest, bullying in the extreme, and children are violently attacked. But that raises the question: Who exactly is It for? Its heroes, like its audience, are kids. What responsible parent will buy their tickets?

Bilge Eberi from The Village Voice’s thoughts on the film were similar, writing that the scares aren’t as effective as time goes on.

So now It the movie has arrived, and as it looks out at those faces watching in the darkness, it seizes on one in particular. A critic. Kind of middle-aged, kind of overweight (though he’s working on that — no, really, he is), and seemingly a little bored. He was totally with It during its instant classic of an opening scene, a tense and deeply unsettling re-creation of the child murder that also kicks off the book. But as the film progresses, our critic appears less and less engaged. He’s not really jumping at the jump scares, though It has gone out of its way to spring them with really loud noises and blasts of music. Where does this guy get off, acting like he’s seen it all before? Doesn’t he know that this is It, the movie everyone’s been waiting three decades for? Is it possible that all the horror flicks that came in those intervening years have rendered it a little less relevant?

However, Eberi comments that the film’s strength doesn’t lie with its scares, but with its young stars. “The snob may whine about this and that, but at least he recognizes that It has chosen its young actors wisely,” he wrote.

Polygon’s Julia Alexander echoed Eberi’s take on the film, adding that It’s not really scary, but it’s great for what it is.

There’s a magnetic energy to this cast that makes you want to watch their adventure for hours. The obvious comparison is Stand by Me, but the witty bickering and desire to save their town from sure devastation is more akin to J.J. Abrams’ Super 8. They turn It into a fun, action blockbuster and, while that’s not what It is trying to be, the result is a successful one. I didn’t leave the theater angry that It wasn’t scary because the cast sold me entirely on the concept of a movie about the power of finding your tribe when all else seems lost.
It isn’t a scary movie and those looking for a disturbing flick going in are going to be disappointed. But It is also a movie full of heart and determination with a cast that’s impossible not to like. The film is best enjoyed not expecting much and strapping in for the ride, allowing the zig-zagging motion of It to do what movies do best: entertain.

Meanwhile, Sandy Schaefer from ScreenRant offered that though the film’s scares don’t compare to those of modern horror classics, it provides something more “horrifying.”

In terms of narrative, It is more of a troubling and creepy fantasy parable along the lines of Muschietti’s directorial debut Mama than a “scary” piece of filmmaking. In that respect, though, the movie is faithful in spirit to King’s source material, despite making some significant changes to the text – in particular, updating the time period in which the members of the Losers’ Club are preteens from the 1950s to the 1980s. Muschietti isn’t operating on quite the same level yet as the best modern mainstream horror directors (see James Wan, David F. Sandberg) when it comes to delivering scares through tension-fueled sequencing and/or building up to the spooky moments (e.g. jump scares). However, because it offers both more overtly disturbing imagery and narrative substance than many other studio horror films nowadays (even the R-Rated ones), It manages to be more “horrifying” than its peers, despite being less “scary.”

So, It isn’t the clown-filled nightmare everyone was expecting it to be, but it’s excellent cast turns it into its own thing. With the film’s release almost upon us, audiences won’t have to wait too long to find out if they agree.

It opens this Friday, September 5.

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