Every 27 years, a shapeshifter emerges from the sewers of Derry, Maine to torment its children with visions of their deepest fears. After his little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) disappears after he allowed him outside to float his paper boat, Bill Denbrough (Jason Lieberher, "St. Vincent," "The Book of Henry") gathers The Losers Club, seven outsider kids bullied by The Bowers Gang, to join forces to fight "It."
The hype machine has been working overtime to promote director Andy Muschietti's ("Mama") big screen, R-rated adaptation of the Stephen King novel (screenplay by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga ("Sin Hombre") and "Annabelle: Creation's" Gary Dauberman) as 'terrifying.' It's not. What it is is boring, predictable, and too safe, its scare set pieces so competently over stylized they lose any sense of the frightening unknown. The movie works marginally better as a "Stand By Me" type of coming-of-age tale than a horror film, yet even here the usually reliable Lieberher is bland, only a few of the supporting players (particularly Sophia Lillis's Beverly Marsh) popping through. Bill Skarsgård's ("Atomic Blonde") initial appearance as Pennywise the Dancing Clown is effective, but even his wall eyed, yellow-fanged, drooling incarnation with his eerily clipped diction becomes a case of quickly diminishing returns.
The adaptation of King's doorstop of a novel only addresses its first half, when The Losers Club are all still children, the 1950's setting updated to the 1980's. On the last day of school, stuttering Billy, his wiseass best friend Richie (Finn Wolfhard, Netflix's 'Stranger Things,' a standout), hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and bar mitzvah prepping Stanley (Wyatt Oleff, "Guardians of the Galaxy's" young Peter Quill) avoid the bullies led by the psychopathic Henry Bower (Nicholas Hamilton, "The Dark Tower") while outside overweight, friendless Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), still referred to as 'the new kid,' is smitten by the teasing attentions of tomboy Bev, both yet to become club members. Home schooled Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), who lost his parents in a fire (presumably set because they were the only black family in town), is seen facing his fear at his uncle's farm - slaughtering sheep with a bolt gun.
Ben and and Mike are brought into the fold after being attacked by the Bowers' Gang, Bev jumping into the fray as a tampon purchasing distraction while the boys gather supplies to treat Ben's wounds (Bev's fear later conjured by Pennywise marks her as "Carrie's" heir). Ben's outsider status has made him a historian of his new town and it's he who tells the others of the horrific events which have taken children every 27 years, 1988 already having seen several go missing. By overlaying Ben's slide of Old Derry over Billy's father's map of Derry's sewer system, they pinpoint an old well as It's home, now the site of the spookily run down Victorian at 29 Neibolt Street. Billy believes Pennywise can only conquer them divided, convincing the others to confront It united.
The best things about 2017's "It" is how Beverly's presence radically alters the previously all male camaraderie, inviting chivalry, hormones and romance (one comical scene has the six boys all staring dumbfounded at the sunbathing budding beauty) and how briefly seen parents make reality far more horrifying than Pennywise's supernatural presence. Taylor makes unrequited love genuinely touching while Mollie Jane Atkinson and Stephen Bogaert ("American Psycho") embody evil as Eddie's Munchausen Syndrome by proxy mom and Bev's sexually abusive dad. But the filmmakers keep undercutting the things that do work, Eddie himself unsympathetic, the cleanup to Bev's blood soaked horror set to the Cure’s 'Six Different Ways'(!).
Much of the film is so much of a slog I was almost in pain waiting for it to end. Just as the film signalled it was wrapping by suggesting a sequel, I wrote 'hopefully not for 27 years.' Then Muschietti hits us with it - "It: Chapter One." Maybe the sequel's adult horrors will creep more under the skin, but this first chapter hasn't left me clamoring for more.
Robin did not see this film.
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