IT: Combining a coming of age story with horror comes with the daunting task of getting both dissimilar genres right. This movie adaptation of Stephen King’s popular novel about a band of geeky, whipsmart kids trying to figure out why other youths in their Maine village keep disappearing and what their connection with a creepy clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) is scores one out of two. When the storyline surrounds the juveniles in the “Loser’s Club” with their adolescent fears mixed with evading tormentors at home and school, the film finds its center and heart. The young ensemble cast are all well-defined characters that ring true including a guilt-ridden stutterer (Jaeden Lieberher) unable to come to terms with the fate of his vanished younger brother (Jackson Robert Scott) and a teenage female (Sophia Lillis) who embodies late ‘80s girl power while having to fend off her father’s (Stephen Bogaert) sexual advances. The banter between the kids is cleverly crisp and never once hits a false note owing to the screenplay from Gary Dauberman, Cory Joji Fukunaga and Chase Palmer. Too bad they didn’t concentrate more on the horror element which is rather impotent and dependent on gross-out special effects as opposed to genuine fear and suspense. After a while, an appearance by Pennywise elicits a sort of “Not him again” reaction as he begins to feel like more of a sideshow distraction rather than a crucial component to the narrative. There are quite a number of allusions to some of the better movies gleaned from King’s literary works (See CLOSING CREDITS.) and one gets the impression that IT wants to be included in this pantheon. Had it incorporated a better approach to the scare factor inherent on the page, it likely would have succeeded. But it’s a film that’s only half satisfying when it focuses on adolescents with their internal terrors instead of a cartoonish character whose presence eventually begins to feel more like an interruption.
CRITIC’S GRADE: C+
CLOSING CREDITS: Here’s what I believe are the 10 best movies adapted from a Stephen King novel/short story in ascending order – 10. CHRISTINE (1983), 9. CUJO (1983), 8. THE RUNNING MAN (1987), 7. MISERY (1990), 6. THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994), 5. CARRIE (1976), 4. THE MIST (2007), 3. THE SHINING (1980), 2. THE DEAD ZONE (1983), 1. STAND BY ME (1986)