I tried to see IT last night, and had to leave after about forty minutes. Not because the clown was too spooky, but because of migraines. The human brain: sometimes it sucks.
So here's a review of that first portion of the film, and why I didn't like it very much.
Before we start, I should mention that I have never read the Stephen King novel (King being best--or possibly only--enjoyed in very small doses), nor have I watched the miniseries that a lot of people seem to remember fondly, so I really walked into this with no expectations or preconceptions beyond a desire for scary clown antics. And the movie delivered those, just not in the way I was hoping for.
I'm kind of a giant snob when it comes to horror movies, in that I think the vast majority of mainstream wide-release horror movies totally suck and aren't scary, mostly due to a reliance on jump scares over genuine fear. IT doesn't seem like it falls into that trap, but it's lacking in subtlety in a whole other way.
The part of the movie I saw repeats the same basic format over and over again: there's a scene with the characters hanging out or investigating something, a kid wanders off into an isolated area, they're confronted by a kind of goofy looking monster, then Pennywise runs at them going ARGLEBARGLEBARGLE. Then there's another bit where the characters hang out, then another arglebargle scene, and then another hanging out bit, and then...
It's a very strange structure, like being on a roller coaster that's composed of nothing but an endless sequence of climbs and drops, spaced out so you can always tell exactly when the next one is coming. The movie seems less interested in genuinely scaring its audience than in triggering an adrenaline rush, the "scare" scenes all being accompanied by a deafening score and intense imagery (note that I said "intense" and not "scary" or "disturbing").
The shame of it is that the movie does pull out a few moments of really great, subtle creepiness, as in this scene highlighted by Birth.Movies.Death. The opening encounter between Georgie and Pennywise is also played fairly low-key, at least until Pennywise activates his Monster Mouth and bites the kid's arm off.
Actually, that moment kind of encapsulates everything I didn't like about the movie. The scene ends on a shot of blood running down a storm drain, which I found way creepier and more affecting than the arm biting; I'm willing to bet the entire scene would have turned out much more memorable if you never saw what happened, and just heard Georgie's screams followed by that last, chilling shot.
But no, the movie wants to be VISCERAL and R-RATED and make audiences go BOY HOWDY THAT SURE WAS SCARY GOSH DARN IT (the audience turns into cowboys for some reason).
Still, I'm glad it's doing gangbusters at the box office. For all its apparent flaws (and I am cognizant of the fact that I'm judging it based on a third of its running time), it's still an ambitious, relatively high-budget horror movie that was clearly created with a lot more care than your average disposable Halloween fodder. Given how trend-based Hollywood is, maybe it will be the impetus for studios to start putting more effort into horror movies from now on.