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Pennywise in It.

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It review

Don’t expect to be scared out of your pants

Warner Bros.

Considering that It is a movie about a savage clown who epitomizes fear come to life, the movie takes more than half of its runtime to tease anything nightmare-inducing.

That’s not to suggest that It doesn’t try to be scary long before it achieves that goal. All of the telltale signs that point toward It understanding it’s a horror movie are there; dramatic music cues foreshadowing a jump scare are prominent through the film’s first half. There’s just enough gore spread across just enough closeups of Pennywise the clown’s butt-clenching worthy face to make sure you’re aware this is a horror movie. The problem is that it’s just not scary.

The reason It worked as a novel is because its concept of fear is the original monster in the shadows. It’s what made A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger such a spectacular villain. Director Andy Muschietti has proven with films like Mama that he understands how to instill fear into an audience; how to make them clutch at their seats while watching true horror play out on screen. It comes attached to a safety net. It can never get scary because you’re always one step ahead of the game. The music cues up, the actors get scared, the scenery changes and, before you have time to roll your eyes, Pennywise’s smug face is there, grinning like the devil himself.

It doesn’t work as a horror movie, but that’s not where it finds its strength. It is fun — like Steven Spielberg, Stranger Things-level fun. The camaraderie among the cast of teen actors who deliver fantastic performances as members of the Losers’ Club keeps the movie feeling so invigorating minute after minute. There’s an enormous amount of pressure on these teens to make the audience care about their characters. Without the Losers’ Club, It doesn’t have anyone to root for. Each individual performance stands on its own and contributes to the most important quality the film succeeds on: its ability to endear.

It isn’t a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination, but It’s much different than what people are going to expect.

Finn Wolfard in It. Warner Bros.

It takes place between October 1988 and September 1999. Children are going missing without a trace and although no one will discuss it, everyone is aware that Derry, Maine is a deadly place. When a group of children start seeing the same terrifying clown stalking them around town, they begin to plot their attack, saving themselves and the future of their town.

Muschietti uses tiny vignettes to reiterate Pennywise’s terrifying nature, which gives the film a Nightmare on Elm Street vibe. There are individual horror scenarios that each character must contend with before coming together as a group. If this were any other horror movie, the segregated tactics Pennywise unleashes upon the children would work. It, however, is a movie about the power of friendship conquering individual fears. Too much time spent on the unique fear of every character is precious time wasted, a distraction from the main story at play.

Since Muschietti implements the same scare tactics for each scenario, it also makes each murderous nightmare predictable and boring. The jump scares and twisted facial expressions that litter Pennywise’s face only work for so long before it becomes redundant. Muschietti ignores the more powerful horror at play — the disturbing bullies that run rampant around town and the problematic, psychotic parents who watch over these children — in favor of more jump scares. If Muschietti had just paid closer attention to the more intimate, traumatizing day-to-day problems these kids were dealing with behind closed doors, It would have been infinitely scarier than the end product. Going for cheap tricks and easy blows common to any horror flick almost ruined It.

Cast of It. Warner Bros.

Again, what saved the movie was the cast. There are seven kids who make up the Losers’ Club, four best friends and three loners who tag along when things start to get rough. Sophia Lillis and Jeremy Ray Taylor, who play newcomers Beverly and Ben respectively, are the shining stars. There’s an authenticity in their performances that captivates you from their very first interaction. They believe in their characters and that translates very well to the screen.

That’s not to say that the other actors can’t keep up with their pace. Stranger Things actor Finn Wolfhard shines in the role of Ritchie, the funniest character in the movie and the much needed comic relief. Jackson Robert Scott delivers an emotional performance as Georgie, the young child who goes missing and sets this entire ordeal in motion. Jack Dylan Grazer, who plays the anxious hypochondriac Eddy, quickly became a favorite.

There’s a magnetic energy to this cast that makes you want to watch their adventure for hours. The obvious comparison is Stand by Me, but the witty bickering and desire to save their town from sure devastation is more akin to J.J. Abrams’ Super 8. They turn It into a fun, action blockbuster and, while that’s not what It is trying to be, the result is a successful one. I didn’t leave the theater angry that It wasn’t scary because the cast sold me entirely on the concept of a movie about the power of finding your tribe when all else seems lost.

It isn’t a scary movie and those looking for a disturbing flick going in are going to be disappointed. But It is also a movie full of heart and determination with a cast that’s impossible not to like. The film is best enjoyed not expecting much and strapping in for the ride, allowing the zig-zagging motion of It to do what movies do best: entertain.

I’m disappointed that It won’t be my favorite horror movie of 2017, but I’m more than pleased with the Stranger Things-like movie that Muschietti directed. We could all use a little bit more Stranger Things and a little less Saw in our lives and It, against all odds, proved just that.