More often than not, I enter movie remakes with an awfully wary eye. That is, unless the picture's predecessor was plagued with heaps of unfulfilled potential.
Stephen King's It was an especially prime candidate for a remake treatment.
After all, King's novel is a pretty fantastic one, I would argue not quite among his best but still a powerful and unsettling blend of horror and bildungsroman. The first attempt to bring It to the screen, ABC's 1990 miniseries, was a ratings sensation on the tube, even scoring an Emmy (for its music). In hindsight, though, Tim Curry's chilling and iconic portrayal of Pennywise the Clown aside, the Tommy Lee Wallace-directed production isn't such hot stuff - in fact, it largely moves like molasses, isn't terribly well-acted and all but completely skids off the tracks in the laughable second half.
Given the shortcomings of the miniseries and my affection for the novel, I was very much eager for this new feature film. Ultimately, I'm afraid, this new take on the King tale is really only a small step up from the 1990 adaptation.
Where the Derry, Maine-set novel begins in the late 1950s, this It, directed by Andres Muschietti, opens toward the end of the 1980s, as little Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott) faces a gruesome demise at the hands (well, more like mouth) of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard).
Nearly a year after the unexplained disappearance, his brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), determined as ever to figure out what the hell happened to Georgie, teams with his fellow social outcast pals to get to the bottom of the many children who've mysteriously gone missing from the town over the years. This means going mano a mano with the shape-shifting evil that that so often takes the form of that pesky, bloodthirsty clown.
As a sheer coming-of-age story, It is often a real delight.
This troupe of young actors - particularly Lieberher, Sophia Lillis (as Bev, the one female member of the so-called "Losers' Club") and Jeremy Ray Taylor (as Ben, the new kid in town who uncovers much of Derry's spine-chilling history at the library) - are terrific and have dynamite chemistry, even though a couple of the characters here (Stan and Mike in particular) definitely get the short end of the stick and feel underwritten. The picture's best and most compelling scenes are those squarely focused on the kids, without that damn clown gracing the screen.
That's the thing - while there's much to like in this It, I don't think it much succeeds as a horror movie. Where Curry's Pennywise was a genuinely petrifying and inspired creation, Skarsgard's plays more like a cartoon, a Tasmanian devil-like CGI monster that bounces his way around the screen and is really more grating than frightening. While it's a tainted film, Muschietti could have benefited from checking out Victor Salva's 1989 horror picture Clownhouse, which does portray clowns in a piss-your-pants-scary, more nuanced fashion.
In its horror scenes, the picture so often rings like an imitation of some of the A Nightmare on Elm Street sequels, visually grandiose but also bombastic and unpleasant and definitely not very scary. Not helping is Benjamin Wallfisch's loud and intrusive score.
It managed to fall short of even my modest expectations. Still, for the kids alone, the film is worth a look...once it hits streaming and you can fast forward through the horror gunk.