Stephen King film and television adaptations have a long history of struggling to bring the horror master’s on-the-page visions to life. So despite early signs looking good for Andy Muschietti’s “It,” audiences still have reason to be slightly leery of its launch to the silver screen.
Many critics had middling things to say about the film, which is not really reflected in an early Rotten Tomatoes score of 92%. Variety‘s Andrew Barker wrote that “It” “feels like the flashier half of a longer story” and that “King fans will surely appreciate the clear effort and affection that went into this adaptation, even as it struggles to become more than the sum of its parts.”
Comparisons to “Stand By Me” were drawn frequently, and although the young cast including Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, and Sophia Lillis was lauded almost universally, critics couldn’t come to consensus on whether emphasizing the youngster aspect of the film was a plus or not. Many critics expressed disappointment with the lack of overall scariness of It as an entity compared to Pennywise the Clown (played by Bill Skarsgård), and the trading-in of horror sequences with action ones, particularly during the 29 Neibolt Street scene.
“It” floats into theaters Sept. 8. See highlights from the critical response below:
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“But as spine-tingling as a number of individual scenes are, the film struggles to find a proper rhythm. Scene-to-scene transitions are static and disjointed, settling into a cycle of ‘…and then this happened’ without deepening the overall dread or steadily uncovering pieces of a central mystery. Curiously, ‘It’ grows less intense as it goes, handicapped by an inability to take in the scope of Derry as a town defined by its buried traumas and secrets, let alone really plumbing the primal depths of fear that It itself represents. As Pennywise, Skarsgard is largely tasked with providing a canvas for the film’s visual effects, and he never manages to cast as long a shadow as Tim Curry did with the character in the 1990 TV miniseries.”
“While the effects stand out as markedly contemporary — Pennywise emerging, larger-than-life, from a projector and the astonishing visual of floating bodies that fill his underground lair chief among them — the most effective, unnerving aspects of the movie require no 21st century polish. Each member of the Losers Club encounters Pennywise in a different form corresponding to their individual fears, from Beverly’s ‘Carrie’-like encounter with blood bursting from a sinkhole to the gooey leper that chases Eddie through a yard, and these encounters stand out as masterstrokes of cinematic shock effects. Above all, the greatest effect of ‘It’ involves Pennywise himself, with Skarsgård taunting and wiggling his eyebrows whenever the occasion calls for it. He’s less character than spooky gimmick, but a chilling one nonetheless.”
“The new movie, a skillful blend of nostalgic sentiment and hair-raising effects, with the visual punch of big-screen digital hocus-pocus and the liberties of the R rating, still has the soothing charm of familiarity. The gang of misfit ’80s kids who face down the clown and the deeper horror he represents evoke both the middle school posse of the recent TV series ‘Stranger Things’ (there’s some overlap in the cast), but also the intrepid brotherhood from ‘Stand by Me,’ surely one of the all-time top five Stephen King movie adaptations…The filmmakers honor both the pastoral and the infernal dimensions of Mr. King’s distinctive literary vision. Derry, with its redbrick storefronts and its quirks and kinks, seems like a genuinely nice place to live in spite of the fact that its citizens, children in particular, turn up missing or maimed at an alarming rate.”
“The larger question is one of rhythm, and the diminishing returns of one jump scare after another. Director Muschietti’s film is afflicted by a weird case of clutter; nearly every scene begins and ends the same way, with a slow build, a vulnerable child in a cellar or an old, dark house, a violent, bloody confrontation (either in the everyday bullying sequences, which are psychotically vicious, or in the Pennywise appearances) leading up to a KAAA-WHUMMMMMM!!!! sound effect. Such familiar tactics will likely ensure a healthy box office return (the movie’s expected to make $70 million opening weekend), but the result plays like an Olympic hurdles event, with a really, really long track.”
“‘It’ is essentially two movies. The better by far (and it’s very good) is the one that feels like a darker ‘Stand by Me’ — a nostalgic coming-of-age story about seven likable outcasts riding around on their bikes and facing their fears together. Part of me kept waiting for a voice-over from Richard Dreyfuss: ‘And that was the best summer of my life…’ 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.”
“But the problem is that almost everything here looks like route one scary-movie stuff that we have seen before: scary clowns, scary old houses, scary bathrooms. In their differing ways, Brian De Palma and Stanley Kubrick were inspired by the potency of King’s source material to create something virulently distinctive and original. This film’s director, Andy Muschietti, can’t manage quite as much.”