For the first time in at least a decade, I intentionally watched a movie listed as a member of the horror genre that was not named “Underworld.” That being said, I don’t have much of a frame of reference in which to review this film, and it was viewed at a drive-in which lessened the “scare” factor.

Based on the first part of Stephen King’s novel of the same name, “It” is a film rooted in the traditions of King horror, namely the horrors that accompany growing up and the sinister underbelly of the idyllic small town. The film tells the story of Derby, Maine and the terror its inhabitants face every 27 years when fear is given a form and a name: Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

Opening with an effective and brutal scene featuring Pennywise and his latest victim, Georgie, audiences are given no time to bask in the quiet and quaintness of small-town Maine. Following a time jump of nine months, we are introduced to the self-named “Losers Club” as they navigate adolescence, bullies, and parental figures oftentimes more menacing than Pennywise himself.

Led by Bill, the brother of Georgie from the opening scene, the Losers Club faces down Pennywise and his manifestations multiple times in the lead up to the final showdown in the sewers of Derby. From all of these encounters, as well as a bit of old fashioned research by the new kid in town, we learn that to defeat Pennywise, all it takes is a bit of faith, trust, and fairy dust  they have to prove themselves fearless in the face of things that they most fear.

The film will be more reminiscent of 2017’s “Stranger Things”, which took more than a few cues from King’s “It” itself, than a horror movie by todays standards. The focus on the Losers Club as the latest entrance in the kids-on-bikes genre is the most effective part of the film. Anchored by fantastic performances by Finn Wolfhard as Richie and Sophia Lillis as Beverly, and the evolution of Jaeden Lieberher’s Bill from guilty brother into fearless leader, the film is undermined by the many appearances of the clown himself. Outside of the jump scares, the coming of age story is so strong here, it neuters the horror aspect completely save for a few jump scares and the insinuations of larger horrors at the hands of adult humans. Perhaps the sequel, with grown versions of its child characters in play, will bring more of the horror aspect of King’s work to the forefront.

‘It” is playing strong for a second weekend in cinemas and is rated R for violence/horror, bloody images, and languages.

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