Stephen King is why I love horror. I was a big old wuss for the first 12 or 13 years of my life, afraid of stuff like Jumanji and The Shaggy Dog (JUST BECAUSE IT’S A MOVIE FOR KIDS DOESN’T MEAN IT ISN’T A WEREWOLF, GUYS!) until I picked up a Stephen King short story collection in my 8th grade English class and read “The Boogeyman,” a story about a monster hiding in a closet and then in plain sight. And then I was hooked. I read literally every Stephen King story I could get my hands on, with It following closely on the heels of The Shining and Cujo. While I was able to follow those two books up with a viewing of the film based on them which began my obsession with horror films, It lived in my mind for a good while. I eventually caught up with the mediocre 90’s TV adaptation of the gigantic book, but other than Tim Curry, there’s really nothing to recommend in that. This new cinematic version, then, had a chance to bring something great to the table. It could have recaptured that first burst of love for a new genre. It could have been a new favorite. It isn’t, but it’s still pretty darn good.
The story of It feels like something everybody knows, due in part to stuff like Stranger Things having been heavily influenced by its mix of coming-of-age anxieties and full-on horror. This is still the best version of that combination, as the menacing monster is able to take the form of whatever scares its victims while King deftly mixes real-world horror with the supernatural stuff. As the 7 kids that make up the Loser’s Club spend their summer vacation looking for dead kids and trying to survive bullies, they discover that there’s something supremely evil in the town of Derry and they’re the only ones who can stop it. It’s all become standard horror stuff by now with movies like Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and the aforementioned Stranger Things taking heavy cues from the book. None have quite nailed the sense that the kids are distinct entities with complicated relationships to each other and their families, nor have they matched King’s impressive world-building which really sells the idea that the whole town is rotten thanks to the corrupting force that is It. This movie almost reaches the book’s level, but misses in key ways that keep this from being the masterpiece it could have been.