It is an exhaustive film. For over two hours, Mama director Andy Muschietti takes us on a winding journey that sometimes feels authentic. Other times, it feels like a tour through Stephen King’s greatest hits. Perhaps among the heaviest sampled hit would be Stand By Me. It isn’t that It feels overly derivative of more interesting Stephen King stories, its more so that this movie is a genre pleaser, and not much else. It is sure to please fans of the book (which I haven’t read) and the genre equally. However, It is a daunting task to watch, but Muschietti does a admirable job of guiding the uninitiated through the murky sewer water in which Pennywise the Dancing Clown lurks in.
The story find us rooting for the self proclaimed “losers club”, a group of outcast kids who begin to grow curious when children go missing in their town of Derry in 1989. Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) loses his beloved brother Georgie when he inexplicably disappears. Bill and the rest of the kids seek out the monster, who inhabits the form of a clown named Pennywise. They are typical ragtag group of underdogs you want to root for. Among the reasons to root for them is that these kids can flat out act.
Lieberher (Midnight Special) is particularly outstanding as Bill, brining the emotional core of the film to center stage. He has a stutter which predictably makes his life tough at school. The group of kids regularly navigate bullies of all forms throughout the film. Besides Pennywise, one particularly sadistic bully, Henry, torments the Losers with cruel and vicious attacks. Bill becomes enamored by Beverly, played by Sophia Lillis. In her first major role, Lillis is sharp and effecting as the lone girl of the group.
The overall chemistry of the kids is where It is at its best. If not for each individual kid bringing something unique to the table, It would be just another run of the mill horror flick. Yet, the job of a movie like this, is to terrify you and keep you up at night. This is a feat the film rarely accomplishes. There are moments of fresh and genuine thrills, but the inherently eerie imagery the film boasts never reaches the level it strives for. When It is focusing on the characters, it shines.
Bill Skarsgard gives a sinister, but ultimately unremarkable performance as the films title terrorizer. Parts of his performance are nuanced and when Pennywise has extended dialogue, is when he is at his most frightening. This is evident from the get go when the dastardly clown is prowling in the sewer when Georgie loses his boat. Its a great opening scene, but we rarely this version of Pennywise for the rest of the film. Muschietti instead relies on the ghoulish look of the character to elicit most of the thrills its going for. Contrary, the directors eye is one of It‘s strengths. Muschietti weaves in some wonderful visuals amidst all the chaos.
The last 30 minutes of the film end up being redundant. What’s left at the end, is a generic battle to end Pennywise. By the time we get near the end, the whole journey to get to the conclusion is so heavy, you can’t help but feel bogged down by it all. And still, the charisma and camaraderie of our heroes does make the quest likable in the long run. It isn’t a genre defining film. Rather, it is a sharp but draining ride to a conclusion you’ve seen many times. Despite its many potential star making performances, It is a movie that won’t turn the skeptics into believers. The movie serves its purpose, and doesn’t reach for much more beyond that.