Starring Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton, Jackson Robert Scott, Bill Skarsgard
Directed by Andy Muschietti
Written by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman
Based on the novel “It” by Stephen King
Produced by Roy Lin, Dan Lee, Seth Grahame-Smith, David Katzenberg, Barbara Muschietti
Cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung
Edited by Jason Ballentine
Music by Benjamin Wallfisch

“It” isn’t it.

The 2017 movie adaption of Stephen King’s 1986 supernatural horror novel—a separate production from the previous 1990 ABC two-part, four-hour miniseries that famously starred the great Tim Curry as the evil Pennywise the Clown—is a major disappointment, suffering from numerous production, direction, pacing and timing problems; an overall depressing, harshly dark and unnecessarily violent atmosphere that’s difficult to sit through and even more difficult to enjoy on any sane level; and most seriously suffering from multi-faceted story, plot, subplot and dialogue problems and basic story, plot and character development problems.

“It” is basically just not a well-constructed film. The film is definitely not recommended for anyone—even for diehard horror, supernatural, paranormal and fantasy fans and even for diehard King fans. The film is, as noted, generally uncomfortable, negative and
difficult to sit through, difficult to appreciate, and, basically, point-blank, just an cringy, unpleasant experience. The acting and special effects are fine, but, of course, a movie can’t survive simply on just acting and special effects—as modern-day movie audiences know too well these days. Those general story deficiencies; the repetition of similar scenes; drawn-out clichéd horror movie gimmicks; a too-long overall run-time (a ghastly two hours and fifteen minutes—that may be the biggest horror of all associated with this film); tacky, tired and cliched jump scares and cat-and-mouse chases in dark areas; overdone cussing by kids that grows tired just minutes into the first act and doesn’t do much to make the core, lead characters likeable at all; unnecessary blood and gore that doesn’t have to be there; weird underlying tones that are so overdone they tend to overwhelm the story instead of add to the story; unexplained story elements that leave huge, dark black holes of plot; a lack of a decent, fully-realized backstory and subplot; and a general atmosphere of gloom, doom, darkness and violence make the movie version of “It” just wholly unpleasant, depressing and unenjoyable.

About that violence, pessimism and courseness involving kids. Why anyone would find a movie in which a kid has his arm bitten off, a kid is kidnapped through a rainy storm drain, a kid is attacked and has his first initial carved into his chest, another kid is yelled at for not slaughtering an innocent animal, a girl is leered at grotesquely and unnaturally by her father, a kid is verbally abused because of his stuttering and that same girl is leered at by a pharmacist—all within the movie’s horribly downer first act—is a mystery. Why is this entertaining? Why is this necessary? To make a point about the difficulties of growing up, the difficulties regarding relationships between kids and adults, the difficulties of life in general, the difficulties of coming of age? That would be an attempted intelligent analysis—however, those looking for deeper meanings in “It” are not given the proper explanations, depth, analysis and intellectual, intelligent insight into these scenes and occurrences in a proper manner. “It” basically just presents these scenes without the proper depth of explanation to give the scenes proper context and meaning with clear morals, lessons and themes. It’s just—there. And throughout “It,” there’s no there there to support what viewers are watching.

Thus, despite “It’s” best intentions to try and present a film about the trials and problems of growing up and coming of age, about fear, about overcoming fear, about friendship amid the very worst incidents in life, and about basic life and death tribulations, the movie comes up too short–because the story, depth, explanations for incidents and dialogue are too over-simplified, too lacking in proper depth and explanation, and just too basic, one-leveled and, in a way, dumbed-down. The dialogue is not literate, not eloquent, not deep, and often consists of people fighting, being negative, screaming and making—again—negative, course and downer statements. There’s very little in the way of deep dialogue to explain just what is happening on a deeper level, why this might be happening on a deeper level, and what it all means in the greater context of life and death.

And amid the lacking story, dialogue, explanations and depth, there’s that violence again—re-appearing again and again, and often directed directly at…kids. “It”—it bears repeating, and it will be repeated, because this is important to note regarding this movie–is thoroughly unenjoyable, dire, unnecessarily violent and harsh, negative, full of pessimistic doom and gloom, course and depressing—-it’s just not a fun time at the movies on any level. The movie lacks a coherent, intelligent, interesting story, and there’s just a whisper of any subplot or backstory, and, really, most of the story and the movie is simply a series of violent, disturbing scenes, filled with—again—those cliched and tired jump scares, those cat-and-mouse chases in dark places, haunted house scares, yelling, screaming, fighting, horrible attacks and some special effects tossed in for good measure.

Yes, some of those elements have been mentioned several times here—that’s to demonstrate how those elements themselves are repeated in the movie. As noted the movie never takes the time to really, seriously stop and offer a decent, smart dialogue reflecting on the possible deeper meanings, themes, messages and lessons regarding what is happening. Thus, the film really comes off as somewhat juvenile, childish and amateurish—a young, inexperienced filmmaker’s rumination about what a horror film should be—and “It” is not what a horror film should be.
A more seasoned, experienced—and insightful—screenwriter was needed to flesh out the story, make the dialogue more literate and eloquent—yes, even among the dialogue of the kids who are the main characters, as kids can indeed speak intelligently about the deeper meanings of things—and provide those needed explanations to simply explain just what is happening—again, on a deeper, more mature level.
As “It” happens, the story is simply about a vengeful evil clown named Pennywise who for some reason springs to life and attacks kids, eats them and kills them in a town called Derry in the 1980s, and who does this to kids every twenty-seven years, and, meanwhile, another aspect of the story regards a group of kids who band together to fight off Pennywise and find out what happened to the various missing people in Derry. But—why is Pennywise doing this? Why is he a clown? Why can he do some things and not do other things? Why does he kill some people in some incidences, but not kill people in other incidences? Why can he make blood spurt from faucets, make things appear to some people but not to other people, and affect the minds of some people but not the minds of other people? Why does he kill some people but not kill other people (even by the lame rules that are attempted to be explained in the movie)? How can Pennywise be killed? Can he be killed at all? Where is he from? Why does he make dead victims float in a cave beneath the earth’s surface? Why are the dead people floating there in the first place? What the holy scary-clown does all of this mean?
Yes, there are indeed some lame attempts to answer these questions—Pennywise is some type of an evil supernatural being, perhaps. He feeds on kids because of their fears. He feeds and kills some people because they are alone, but he has difficulty attacking some kids in packs because they’re stronger as a pack. And on and on. But, again, the attempted explanations for all of these plot points end up lame, half-hearted, sometimes unexplainable, and often conflicting, confusing and flat-out inconsistent—even with a solid suspension of disbelief. The story just lacks enough consistency, intelligence, depth and thoroughness to offer decent, satisfying answers to the many plot-point questions.
Interestingly, the movie is set in the late 1980s, and for a brief moment, the filmmakers show a movie theater marquee advertising one of Wes Craven’s “Nightmare on Elm Street” sequels (Craven didn’t direct all of the sequels, of course, but the entire franchise sprang from one of his best, if not his best, ideas, so, in a sense, the sequels belong to the inspiration and ideas of Wes Craven). That’s notable, because that one, brief flash was to a film series that had a very solid, strong, explainable backstory and reason for the antagonist’s actions. Craven—who did understand horror and its many levels—supernatural, psychological and real-life–provided that solid—and interesting and creepy—backstory to “Nightmare on Elm Street” and that basic backstory provided the foundation for a string of creepy movies. For younger viewers who are new to the “Elm Street,” that backstory will not be revealed here, but for those familiar with “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and its sequels, viewers know all too well that there is indeed that solid, creepy and psychologically meaningful backstory. And that backstory wonderfully propels the classic first film—a true original and inventive horror movie classic.
Alas, although “It” the movie includes that homage to Craven and his series, at the same time, “It” never reaches that same level of psychological angst and depth that Craven instilled in the “Nightmare” series.
Additionally, “It” will recall yet another previous King adaptation, the far better—and classic, even—film version of a King short story, Rob Reiner’s 1986 “Stand by Me”—but “It” only recalls “Stand by Me” on the very basic level that “It” includes a group of kids going through a harsh coming-of-age story. But the similarities between the great, likeable, enjoyable and wonderfully intelligent, deep and overall satisfying “Stand by Me”—which is simply one of the best King adaptations ever—and the unpleasant, base-level, overly violent and unlikeable “It” are very few. Both are King adaptations, both involve kids in a coming-of-age story, and both present kids being strong amid some tough situations, but the vast differences between the films are overwhelming. Basically, if moviegoers want to see a brilliant King adaptation filled with life, meaning, lessons, themes, morals and intelligence—and great filmmaking—please go watch “Stand by Me.”
And, while you’re at, if you’re in the mood for another, similar smart, deep, wonderfully-made and even brilliant adaptation of yet another King book, be sure to also rent Rob Reiner’s equally-classic and successful 1990 movie version of “Misery.” The varying psychological layers of meaning just regarding Kathy Bate’s complex characterization and performance of the wildly lunatic and insane Annie Wilkes presents loads of ammunition for a thousand thesis papers on psychological disorders in modern-day society. And that’s just one level of psychological horror presented in Reiner’s “Misery.” “It” cannot stand up to “Misery’s” inherent quality, either.
Kudos must be given to the bevy of young actors in “It”—they all do a great job. But that great job is somewhat diluted by the unfortunate, course and at times flat-out disgusting and unnecessary decision by “It’s” writers and director to put these kids through some vile, violent situations that could easily have been diluted and not presented in such stomach-churning scenes. Does anyone enjoy seeing a little kid getting his arm bitten off, a teenage girl being drenched in blood in a bathroom, another kid being bitten on his face, a kid having an initial carved in his chest by a knife, and another kid being horribly, brutally attacked by other, bigger, stronger teenage kids in a psycho manner? Why, again, is this enjoyable? It’s not, and “It” is not enjoyable during any of these violent scenes.
Coincidentally, the same night as the “It” screening, a cable television channel was airing an absolutely wonderful, kind-hearted, positive, enriching, meaningful and enjoyable kid-centered coming-of-age story—the beautiful, smart and eloquent 1993 film “The Sandlot,” directed by David Mickey Evans, written by David Mickey Evans and Robert Gunter, and starring Tom Guiry, Mike Vitar, Patrick Renna, Chauncey Leopardi, Marty York, Brandon Adams, Grant Gelt, Karen Allen and James Earl Jones. Much like “Stand by Me,” “The Sandlot” is a smart, deep, moving and insightful coming-of-age film. It’s funny, heartfelt and positive—much like “Stand by Me.”
And watching “The Sandlot” in early September, 2017, and thinking about recently watching “Stand by Me” during the summer of 2017, prompted the brain to instantly wash away the ugliness of “It” and just about made “It” completely forgettable.
Considering that “It” marks the second recent wholly-disappointing movie adaption of a King novel, following the somewhat-disappointing “The Dark Tower,” which at least was not as violent, gory, negative and bloody as “It”—perhaps it’s likely time for Hollywood producers, directors and writers to simply take a long break from trying to adapt King’s books, move on to something else, and just let King’s books exist for the next couple of years as they probably should exist for now–as books.

John Hanshaw

John Hanshaw

founded WFI in the Fall of 2007. He has worked in film and television for over ten years at such institutions as NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), PBS and most recently National Geographic. He has degrees from Amherst College, Cambridge University, and GW Law.