During the third act, I finally understood what had been bothering me. Pennywise just wasn't scary.
Like many of Stephen King's screen adaptations, IT squanders much of it's potential. Not to say this is a bad film. In fact, this is one of the best King screen adaptions to date. But at the end of the day, IT is a horror film. Horror films are made to be scary. Is this scary. Well...
Not really. This brings us back to my original point of Pennywise not being truly frightening. For a character that is supposedly draped in mystery, the film chooses to lift the veil on the iconic clown far too early. Much of the effective scenes are built off the implication of It and not the actual bucktoothed, erratic, borderline humorous clown. Only when we get quick glimpses or partial views of Pennywise does the film really shine in it's horror aspects.
Where the film truly succeeds is it's cast of characters that aren't dressed as clowns. Since the film chooses to focus solely on the childhood portion of the original IT novel, we follow a cast of preteen children. This could have gone horribly wrong.
Inexperienced director? Child actors? Horror film? IT averts this recipe for disaster with strong performances by it's young leadswith some help from an excellent script. Finn Wolfhard (who you might recognize from Stranger Things) is the obvious standout here as he provides some hilarious comic relief. Jaeden Lieberher is just as impressive in his performance as Bill Denbrough, the film's stuttering protagonist. Surprisingly, there is a fair amount of emotional moments in the film, and most of these moments hinge on Liebrher's performance.
The comedy between the kids works, Wolfhard is undeniably funny in nearly every scene he is in. But, the good comes with the bad (as with nearly everything in this film). The constant comic relief actually deflates much of the tension built in the film. After every scare we are immediately hit with jokes or situational humor. The shifts in tone are glaring here, something that definitely took me out of the film.
I enjoyed IT. While my expectations weren't met on the horror aspects of the film, I was surprised by the character depth and the performances from the young actors. While IT is ultimately disappointing, it delivers a genuine coming-of-age story with a few good scares.