It is a story of a group of kids who must band together to fight a monster that is eating children in the town of Derry, Maine. Each child faces demons, literal and figurative, as the shapeshifting monster starts stalking them, often wearing the guise of an evil clown.
Hollywood's latest attempt isn't too shabby, but it's not nearly as good as it should be or half as good as it thinks it is. There's some sort of weird distance between the audience and director Andy Muschietti, and this is evidenced most in the timing of the film. The most important element of any horror or comedy film is the timing of the takes, and as a movie that combines both genres, It falls short egregiously. There are too many moments where you feel a missed opportunity, as in a jump scare that could have been or a joke that doesn't land right. The constant misses only underscore how much better the movie would be with just a little tweaking.
The 2017 film attempts to tackle the gargantuan book by simply paring it in half. Whereas the sprawling novel jumps back and forth between the present and the past (a group of kids in the past and a crisis involving the the same group 27 years later), the movie simply concerns itself with the events that take place in 1988. It's commendable to disavow an attempt to scrunch the enormous book into one movie, but it feels cheap as well. Instead of being an allegory on coming of age, memory, and of returning home, It turns into some sort of Stranger Things hash.
It's unfair to compare it to Stranger Things, since that TV series owes 95% of its breath to Stephen King and movies of Steven Spielberg wonder and Stand By Me camaraderie. But It doesn't earn a comparison to the classic Stand By Me. It tries, but it's a pale shadow that won't last the decade. Stephen King's original story is about outcasts, a group of kids who are labeled as "others" for various reasons, and very human flaws, as well as the pervasiveness and truth about adult distance. Although we get brief glances at the tribulations of the kids in the "Loser Club", we never fully understand the depths of their misery and so their triumphs aren't nearly as meaningful. Spielberg more effectively conveyed how dismissive adults can be with just a little bit of staging in E.T.. Muschietti only manages to hint that the adults are absent or destructive merely because of the manipulations of a clown.
There's much to be sad, however, about the chemistry of the young cast. Each of them is a bright gem, and it's entertaining to be a part of their club. All of them are a delight, even if some are less fleshed out than others, and Sophia Lillis is like another Elle Fanning a la Super 8. On that note however, if there could ever have been an advised update to the story, we could have done without the damsel in distress bit that she plays at one point. Bill Skarsgard does a commendable interpretation of Pennywise, the evil clown, with mannerisms not far from Heath Ledger's Joker. It's hard to say whether his face will haunt this generation the same way Tim Curry's clown mug did back in the day, but it won't be for lack of trying on his part.
The true star of this film, and what elevates it beyond what it probably deserves, is the cinematography. Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung breathes vitality, eeriness, and beauty into each scene. It is not a scary movie, unfortunately. But Chung gets it as close as he can. The opening looks like a Cuaron/Lubezki collaboration, and it's just of a child running down the street in the rain.
It is doing so well in the theaters, I doubt Muschietti will alter anything for the sequel. And it's admittedly a fun movie to watch. But it doesn't do what it should, and it won't age well. There's too much of the same inane scare action, and it doesn't have enough locomotion to carry the movie. The CG distances us from what should terrify us, and often I found myself laughing at what was happening on screen instead of cringing. More than anything, it felt like watching a movie on what children are afraid of rather than the darkest recesses of human nature and fear.
Despite its flaws, King's movie at least has a chance to shine in Muschietti's interpretation. Although there was rampant disappointment at Cary Fukunaga's departure, it appears that his take on the book was to alter it horrifically. Muschietti fought to bring back some key elements in the book, and to attempt to capture what made the book so winning -- namely the loyalty and love of the Losers Club. If for nothing else, see it for that as a filler before Stranger Things returns next month.