I’ve never read the book version of It, and at nearly 1500 pages (or 45 hours, if you go the audiobook route), I probably won’t anytime soon. I have seen the 1990 TV miniseries, but it’s been a very long time, and I didn’t remember a lot of the specifics going into the new film. Still, I remember liking the TV version, and I let myself get my hopes up for the new movie, only to have them dashed by actually watching it.
It’s set in the small town of Derry, Maine. The town has a history of losing children, and they seem to be in a spurt of abductions right now, except that none of the adults who haven’t lost children seem to notice or care. But it’s definitely noticed by other kids, especially those who are already at the bottom of the pecking order, getting bullied at school and not having a much better time at home with their parents. Each has had run-ins with some kind of evil force, often in the form of a clown who calls himself Pennywise (played by Bill Skarsgård), but sometimes in the form of a leper or a scary woman from a painting. The kids decide that there’s strength in numbers and that they need to band together to fight whatever monster is coming after them.
It is a movie that’s much scarier in theory than in reality. It tries to create an atmosphere of creepiness, but really just ends up telegraphing all of its attempted scares way in advance so that there’s no surprise or fear whenever it finally arrives. While I suppose it is commendable that it doesn’t rely on jump scares, they might have actually been even more effective than what we get. Unless you have a particular fear of clowns, you may find that Pennywise is not even slightly scary, and probably more annoying than anything else. And the characters that have the most potential for scariness (including a sadistic, sociopathic bully and an icky, molestery father) aren’t really given a chance to develop that to its full potential.
If you watch a lot of horror, then you’ll find that It is sorely lacking in originality. Most of the time, it feels very much like a rip-off of A Nightmare on Elm Street, with the villain only effective because the children fear him, and relying heavily on hallucination to fuel that fear. There’s even a direct, albeit clumsy, reference to the series with A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 shown on the marquee of a movie theater around town. There’s also a bloody bathroom scene in which the gushing blood is initially reminiscent of the elevator scene in The Shining before focusing on a girl completely covered in the stuff in what has to be a direct and intentional reference to Carrie. And most of the downtime, character-developmenty scenes featuring just the kids might as well have been taken directly from a more modern version of Stand by Me. At least those references make more sense, as Stephen King wrote the book for each of them, but they still feel pretty forced and lazy.
When you take away the potential for scariness and originality, what’s left is not very exciting. It’s just a bunch of kids who swear a lot and who do really stupid things like go off alone after they’ve decided that they need to stick together. I’m sure the book goes much deeper into the kids’ characters and backgrounds, as well as why the adults are clueless and/or apathetic, and more about Pennywise, but we’re left to fill in the blanks for ourselves. It is not necessarily terrible, but it’s also not very good.