The humorist John Hodgman teaches us that nostalgia is a toxic impulse. He says the idea that things from our past are better than what we have now fuels the worst in contemporary culture. This doesn’t exactly capture the problems with the new adaptation of Stephen King’s It, but it gets close.
The movie’s thirst for nostalgia causes it to go in too many directions at once, leaving it a mess.
It desperately wants to exist in the vein of 1980s movies like Stand By Me and The Goonies, with a group of children going on a series of grown-up adventures, and when it’s just dealing with the kids, it doesn’t do too badly. The group we’re given is clever and neurotic and just crass enough to be pretty fun. But then this version of the story smashes up against the part that’s completely horrifying, and it feels like we’ve got two competing movies going at once.
Our heroes are being pursued by a murderous demon-clown named Pennywise, who we see in the opening of the movie biting the arm off of a small boy and yanking him into a sewer drain, which is just as disturbing as it sounds. And frankly, all of the scenes involving Pennywise are equally frightening, full of screaming and blood and gore and pain. But then we’re tossed right back over to the kids riding their bikes, saying smart-aleck things, and the horror of Pennywise seems like a distant memory. And back and forth we go, over and over, from one movie to the other.
Not to mention, It is decidedly unsubtle. The musical score is intrusive, telling us, “hey, something SCARY is coming! It’s really going to be scary!” and the film tosses in noises and jump scares that would be at home in any run-of-the-mill schlock-fest.
Ultimately, It simply fails in deciding what kind of movie it is. Each individual part does succeed to some degree—it is both cheekily entertaining and truly terrifying. But instead of weaving these parts together to create a coherent whole, it plays more like a dissonant mash-up. It wants to be both a nostalgia-driven romp and a genuine horror film, and it ends up doing a disservice to both sides.