PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s a horror kid flick, of all things.
And chances are decent that it will properly terrify kids, as it intends.
As for us ex-kids, however…
Well, not so much.
The premise: Seems like a nice enough (and fictional) small town, Derry does. With a main street in Maine, seemingly satisfied residents, and a gaggle of picked-on and intimidated kids who actually live in buried fear.
And for now, at least, they’re it.
In It, that is, a perversely horrific funhouse of a thriller aimed squarely at teens and tweens.
It’s not a remake but a new adaptation – the second, following the 1990 television series that starred Tim Curry as the villain – of the 1986 novel of the same name by horror maestro Stephen King, whose record of works adapted for the movie screen is spotty with dashes of true brilliance.
But It has little in common with Stand By Me or Misery or The Green Mile or The Shining or The Shawshank Redemption.
Bill Skarsgard plays the shape-shifting killer clown, Pennywise, the biggest bully of them all, a monster who spreads hatred and dashes hopes in his adopted home: the sewer system beneath the town of Derry, where he lurks and lures his young victims, exploiting and exacerbating the fears, problems, and anxieties of the town’s young folk and is presumably responsible for the recent wave of child disappearances.
But when one youngster disappears into the fearful subterranean lair, the other kids in their circle of a variety of outcasts who are neglected, abused, or bullied, and who refer to themselves as The Losers Club, vow revenge and go after “It,” which is what they call this evil presence, journeying through the network of sewers and storm drains.
Come to think of it, other children have similarly disappeared, they acknowledge, and whatever this monstrous creature is, it apparently feeds on kids’ feelings of insecurity.
Director Andres Muschietti (Mama) acquits himself respectably with the work of his young cast – which includes Jaeden Lieberher, Richie Tozier, Eddie Kaspbrak, Ben Hanscom, and Mike Hanlon – but he overdoes the jump-scare moments to such a ludicrous degree and trots out the clown so often and at such length that the film ceases to be terrifying early on, loses its sense of dread, and never regains its haunted-house, scary-sewer footing.
But. this being a democracy, many youngsters may well disagree.
So we’ll clown around with 2 stars out of 4. As horror thrillers go, It lacks the it that it strives for.