Missing the ‘Sh’

Andy Muschietti’s relentless coming-of-age horror film delivers the goods. Unfortunately, those goods are awful

He’s actually just trying to seduce the balloon.

He’s actually just trying to seduce the balloon.

Rated 2.0

If nothing else, Andy Muschietti’s relentless coming-of-age horror film It delivers the goods. Unfortunately, those goods are awful. For anyone left bloodthirsty and cold by the cerebral, slow-building, atmospheric horror of films like Under the Skin or It Follows, this terrible thing might be more your speed. The posters promise you a child-eating clown, the trailers promise you a child-eating clown, the TV commercials promise you a child-eating clown and, holy crap, do you ever get a child-eating clown.

Bill Skarsgård plays the pivotal role of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, a shape-shifting demon who emerges from the sewers to prey on the helpless children of Derry, Maine. A little-known Swedish actor who most recently failed to make an impression in Atomic Blonde, Skarsgård gets a potential star-making role in Pennywise, and his performance certainly does not lack for zest. I just wished it lacked for screen time.

In adapting the first half of Stephen King’s 1986 doorstop novel, Muschietti (Mama) and his screenwriters move the 1950s action to the 1980s. Otherwise, the basic setup is left largely intact: After the yellow-eyed Pennywise makes away with the little brother of sensitive smart kid Bill, the ravenous clown starts to invade the minds of the town’s children, feeding on their fear until a group of bullied losers band together to fight back.

But rather than focusing on the children and allowing their relationships to develop, Muschietti single-mindedly lurches from monotonous clown demon jump-scare sequence to monotonous clown demon jump-scare sequence, lazily relying on earsplitting soundtrack spikes to provide most of the “horror.” Almost every scare in It gets telegraphed by the predictable and sadistic sound design. Toothless, nostalgia-tickling references to Street Fighter and NKOTB don’t make Muschietti seem like less of a hack.

Meanwhile, Pennywise receives almost as much screen time as the kids, and while his horrifying (and loud) presence makes for some potent (and loud) moments, less would have been a lot more. With little variance in tone or scene construction, the pacing of It gets dragged into the sewer, and after a while the film feels endless.

Of course, it may have been a solid idea to move the focus away from the kids, since the cast of young actors is just as relentless as Pennywise in their movie-cute precociousness. Perhaps audiences will be charmed by their obnoxious sitcom banter, but I grew to fear the kids as much as the clown demon who kept screaming in my ear.

This adaptation of It throws out a lot of the wackier elements of the novel, eschewing many of the weird sexual and irreligious elements, presumably to make it more palatable for concerned parents to bring their kids along to a nonstop bloodbath. Muschietti saves the most horrifying moment for the end credits, though, as the words “Chapter 1” appear on the screen. It serves as one last bloody middle finger from a film that could not respect the intelligence or patience of its audience less.