Is It a bad film? No. But it is a very faithful adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, and as a result it does inherit a lot of the flaws of King’s writing. It ends up being a worse film than it could have been, and it’s largely to do with the source material.
King has a tendency to write overly-long, strangely-paced books. The published version of ‘IT’, for example, is 1,138 pages long (and that’s after cutting down and editing). It’s something he can get away with in writing, which is generally a longer and more time-consuming a medium.
But in film — a dense format where every scene, every shot, and every line of dialogue is precious — it’s a big weakness. You can see it mainly in the film’s odd pacing. It starts off fairly strong, but there’s a big chunk where the film just sort of middles along, a number of the scenes serving no real purpose other than to scare the kids.
That lack of direction is a problem, because when the scenes do nothing but provide jumpscares, the filmmaking becomes inefficient. Where there could have been opportunities for character development (something important in a film with such a large main cast), the film doesn’t seem to know how to do more than one thing at a time, and chooses flashiness over fleshing out the kids.
It’s a shame, because there’s a lot to like about the film. The performances by the child actors — Sophia Lillis, Jaeden Lieberher, Jack Dylan Grazer and Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard provide particularly strong performances — are excellent. It’s easy for a film to be pulled down by child actors, but in this case they anchor the film. Bill Skarsgård also pulls off the titular role of It/Pennywise the Dancing Clown, exuding menace and terror with every line of dialogue.
It is also a very competently made film. The general cinematography is very well done, which is no surprise considering the cinematographer was Chung-hoon Chung, who also worked on Oldboy (2003), The Handmaiden (2016) and pretty much all of Park Chan-Wook’s films. Director Andy Muschietti, whose previous work includes the solitary (and mediocre) Mama (2013) also does an okay job, getting some great performances out of his actors. At the end of the day, though, the main flaw with It is its overly-long, unfocused source material.
(Image courtesy of The Sun)