'It' Review Round-Up: A Ruthlessly Scary Adaptation That's Also Clunky And Familiar

This weekend brings the latest adaptation of Stephen King's classic horror novel It to theaters. Or at least it brings the first half of what will be a two-part theatrical adaptation, when all is said and done.

Director Andy Muschietti is tackling Pennywise the Dancing Clown and his terrorizing of the misfits known as The Losers' Club this time, and based on the early buzz on social media recently, it sounded like the movie was going to be a beloved horror hit. Now that the full reviews are starting to arrive, things are looking a little more mixed, but there's still plenty of acclaim here and word that fans don't necessarily need to worry about being disappointed as long as they don't expect perfection.

Read some of the It reviews from around the web below.

Andrew Barker at Variety calls the adaptation "patchy" and writes:

"Focusing entirely on the childhood-set portions of King's book, it's a collection of alternately terrifying, hallucinatory, and ludicrous nightmare imagery; a sometimes jarring pileup of moods, ranging from haunted house horror to nostalgic hangout humor; a popcorn movie about gruesome child murders; a series of well-crafted yet decreasingly effective suspense setpieces; and a series of well-acted coming-of-age sequences that don't quite fully mature. "It" looks poised to make a killing at the box office, but there's a fundamental hollowness that haunts the film just as surely as the titular monster haunts this small town."

William Bibbiani at IGN says It isn't subtle, but that's what makes it work:

"What makes IT, or at least this first half of IT (since the film adapts only the first half of Stephen King's novel, with the latter half to come in a sequel), so beautifully, uncomfortably, and shockingly effective is that Muschietti gets right out in front of King's story and tells the living hell out of it. Subtlety is the responsibility of the actors; the director is telling a scary story at a campfire, shining a flashlight under his face and taking advantage of everything he knows about his audience.

Director Andy Muschietti evokes the horror author's effortless melodrama and in-your-face psychological torments simultaneously, because he seems to understand that these sensibilities bring out the best and, by definition, the worst in one another. Nightmares are scarier when they emerge from happy dreams, and happy endings mean a heck of a lot more when unthinkable horror precedes them."

On the other side, Hillary Busis at Vanity Fair thinks the lack of subtlety works against it and Pennywise gets in the way of a fantastic coming-of-age tale:

"Like King's best work, the movie wants to be greater than the sum of cheap scares. Often, thanks to its strong cast and quieter moments, It succeeds in this goal—but there'd be a lot more time for character development if the film didn't feature quite so many long, frenetic scenes of animated mayhem. As a seminal entry in the analog "kids on bikes" genre, King's It successfully married real terror (and a magic turtle!) with a lovely meditation on innocence lost. The new It almost makes you wish for a story that ditched the clown for a less literal metaphor."

Stephen King's It Featurette

Eric Kohn at IndieWire found the adaptation to be serviceable, but nothing special:

"Ultimately, "It" manages just as much depth as its monster. For much of King's novel, Pennywise menaces because his threat is abstract; some locals imply that his existence defies tangible explanation. That primal horror opens all kinds of thematic angles around the anxieties of youth and the fears of mortality, but "It" only nods to these ideas. The movie displays more interest in using them as a gateway to catapult from one jump scare to the next.

Things pop up from the shadows right on cue. The clown cackles aplenty, mashes his awful teeth, and wiggles his eyebrows. As the kids discuss It's legacy, ominous music sets in to underscore their tales. Repeat. Though gorgeously shot by Chung-hoon Chung, no amount of stunning visuals can rescue "It" from the thud of familiarity."

Peter Bradshaw at The Guardian notes that there are plenty of scares, but otherwise nothing remarkable:

"This is an ensemble smorgasbord of scariness, or maybe a portmanteau of petrification, throwing everything but the haunted kitchen-sink at the audience in the cause of freaking us out. As creepy and horrible things keep happening to each of the kids, it almost feels like a horror anthology, a collection of scares which could be shuffled and presented in any order.

But the problem is that almost everything here looks like route one scary-movie stuff that we have seen before: scary clowns, scary old houses, scary bathrooms. In their differing ways, Brian De Palma and Stanley Kubrick were inspired by the potency of King's source material to create something virulently distinctive and original. This film's director, Andy Muschietti, can't manage quite as much."

Matt Goldberg at Collider paints a different picture, one where the movie isn't all jump scares, but instead has strength in the presentation of the fears of the Losers' Club and their camaraderie:

"Muschietti understands that his horror film can't be all scares all the time. He clearly relishes the "scary" scenes, but there's just as much effort put into the humor and emotions. The movie is a tricky balancing act because it has to recognize that there are imagined fears young people have like Richie's fear of clowns or Stan's fear of a painting, but there's also legitimate trauma like Bill losing his brother or Beverly fending off her sexually abusive father. Muschietti doesn't try to paint all fears as equal, and instead knows when something should be delightfully spooky like Richie wandering into a room full of clown dolls, and when something should make our skin crawl like the advances from Beverly's father. IT has to juggle a lot of tones, and yet it all works together seamlessly."

Stephen King's It

Britt Hayes at ScreenCrush was one of the critics full of much higher praise, saying:

"The new IT is narratively coherent, mythologically complex, and above all, fun. Yes, fun. It's undoubtedly one of the most entertaining experiences I've had in a theater all year, and that's nothing short of astonishing for a film that opens with the brutal attack and partial devouring of a cute little boy.

IT largely succeeds thanks to a cast of incredibly talented kids and their ridiculously entertaining — and supremely profane — banter. They bring levity (and heart) to the most nail-biting and skin-crawling moments in the film, making IT more of a coming-of-age dramedy with horrific elements than an outright horror film. And that's the way it should be."

Finally, former /Film writer Angie Han reviewed the film at Mashable and she says the film isn't without flaws, but it's good enough to maybe forgive them:

"For most of its 135-minute running time, It moves briskly enough that these flaws are easy to forgive – or at least to put aside — in the hopes that they'll be addressed later on. As It barrels toward the end, though, its cracks start to show. In its final act, just as It should be raising the stakes, cranking up the emotion, and delivering us a balls-out bonkers finale, It instead devolves into a generic monster battle and starts to drag.

But maybe that's OK. Maybe that's even kind of the point. Because for all of Pennywise's showboating, It's most horrifying monsters aren't "it" at all. "It," after all, is just doing what it's meant to do. The real demons are the sadistic bullies and abusive parents and indifferent bystanders — people who should have been friends, protectors, helpers, but instead have left these kids to the wolves."


Though there may be some negative things brought up in these excerpts, no one comes out and says the movie is straight-up bad or anything worrisome like that. Some lament that it's not as creative as Cary Fukunaga's take on the material would have been, and that Andy Muschietti has crafted a story that's a little too familiar. But others have endless praise for how loyal the movie is the original book (for better and worse), despite the change in period setting and other modifications,  because it captures the troubled, coming-of-age spirit that's at the center of the Losers' Club.

While It is definitely being marketed as a horror movie, it's not just about the scares. It's about how we deal with them, and we should all be able to identify a little bit of ourselves and what we're scared of in this group of misfits that gets terrorized by a shapeshifting entity. While the story might falter at times and lose steam here and there, it sounds like a satisfying adaptation with incredible visuals that demand to be seen in a theater surrounded by other terrified movie goers.

You can find out for yourself when It creeps into theaters on September 8, 2017.