If you've seen the teaser trailer, you've seen the movie's most suspenseful moment. It's all downhill from that opening sequence on. The remainder of the late-1980s-set film works best as a period comedy, with sassy one-liners reminiscent of "Stand by Me" and "The Sandlot." This is a movie by and for children of the 80s.
As a horror film, "It" is thoroughly mediocre. Its creepy killer clown is scariest when he acts distant and conniving, with the returns diminishing when he tries too hard. "It" is more of an eye-roller than an armrest-grabber for most of its too-long running time, as cheesy and non-threatening as a high school student council haunted house.
Director Andy Muschietti ("Mama") nails the period detail, capturing 80s hair, looks and mannerisms with painterly precision. That makes it all the more jarring that he falls back on cut-rate CGI for some of the supernatural elements. The flimsy, one-dimensional graphics rob scenes of potential frights by taking you out of the moment. Practical effects would have been more effective.
Bill Skarsgard's performance as Pennywise stands up well to Tim Curry's iconic turn in the 1990 TV miniseries, but the script gives him too little to work with. There is no discernable motivation to the character, who starts off the film as a ruthless killer and devolves into a doofus boogeyman who uses his extensive powers only to scare his marks, whom he constantly lets escape and comically retaliate by comically injuring him.
The cast of unknown kids (Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer and Chosen Jacobs) conjures convincing chemistry as the band of outcasts who band together to defeat the sewer-lurking evil that emerges every 27 years to wreack havoc on a tiny Maine town.
Muschietti makes some savvy choices by focusing on the first half of King's novel rather than try to cram the entire saga into the constraints of a cinematic running time. (Stay tuned for the sequel). He also wisely avoids much of King's "Dark Tower"-level metaphysical mumbo jumbo to skew more toward the daily life problems the kids face, including social ostracism, racism and sexual abuse.
The movie soars when it focuses on the strength the friends find in one another. The shape-shifting ghost demon they face amounts to little more than an annoying sideshow distraction.
RATING: 2.5 stars out of 4.
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