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‘It’ clowns around and terrifies, but could have been an instant classic

There’s plenty to love about the Stephen King adaptation, it just doesn’t reach the heights it was capable of.
Pennywise in It
[Photo: Warner Bros]

Let me get this clear immediately: “It” is terrifically entertaining. Director Andy Muschietti instills the film with a playfulness that’s ever present in its scares, set-pieces and, especially, in the dynamic of The Losers’ Club. For a horror film that clocks in with the meteoric running time of 2 hours and 15 minutes, it breezes by.

But, while enjoyable, you can’t help but feel as though “It” could have reached even greater heights. Putting your finger exactly on where it falls short is difficult, though, because it seamlessly transforms from horror to coming of age drama to comedy to supernatural thriller without ever really missing a beat.

At the same time, Pennywise is reborn as Bill Skarsgaard, who appears on cue and brings a sinister edge to the villain that both lulls you in before then creeping you out. But while “It” teases and plays with its viewers, it just falls shorts of providing the necessary iconic jolt that would have made it generation-defining. Something along the lines of the discovery of Ben Gardner in “Jaws” or the quick shot of the Grady twins corpses in “The Shining," which made such an impression that you then revelled in showing it to others so you can watch their reactions.

Skarsgaard’s Pennywise could have provided this shock, but in the end everything is just a little too heavily sign-posted. Again, while far from inept, Andy Muschietti’s approach just falls short. Even though he creates and builds an unsettling atmosphere of dread that has you hiding behind your fingers, Muschietti then doesn’t deliver the pulverizing release that would leave you dazzled.

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This is just the minor gripe of someone that was genuinely enthralled by “It," though. While the film misses the opportunity to join the greats of the genre, “It” is still chilling, enheartening and packed full of humor and nostalgia. Most of this comes from the dynamic of The Losers’ Club, who have not only been perfectly cast but also given the freedom and confidence to delightfully bounce off of each other. They make “It” eminently watchable, selling the drama and comedy with a weight, precision and subtly that belies their age. To single one out would be doing a great disservice to the rest, as they’re so formidable as a pack that they generate an energy makes the film float - pun most definitely intended.  

Muschietti also deserves credit for creating a sweeping, ambitious and crowd-pleasing horror film that honors Stephen King’s novel while thoroughly flourishing as its own entity. With “It: Chapter 2” all but a certainty, Muschietti should have a second opportunity to build upon this triumph. Let’s just hope he amps up the terror. But, even if he doesn’t, he has already proven it will be a hoot.