• by Wes Singleton

It, B

Rated R, 135 minutes

You won't look at clowns or balloons in the same way after the long-awaited, frightfully enjoyable horror thriller "It," based on the iconic 1986 Stephen King novel of the same name. While it's still worth seeing, there are some big pluses and minuses to this adaptation: on the upside, it's well-acted, funnier and smarter than you might anticipate given its source, on the downside, it's not as gruesome or as violent as the premise suggests, with some clear comparisons to a current, popular Netflix TV series.

In Derry, Maine in the summer of 1989, a group of outcast preteens known as "The Losers Club" (led by the wonderful Jacob Leiberher and Sophie Lillis as Bill and Beverly, respectively) fight against an immortal, shape-shifting entity taking the form of a clown named Pennywise (a sinister Bill Skarsgard of the recent "Atomic Blonde") that takes on different forms depending on its victims' worst fears. This thing is responsible for the disappearance of dozens of children in their town, and in seeking to destroy it, they are forced to confront their own personal demons.

"It" is directed by "Mama's" Andy Muschietti and co-written by Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman and Chase Palmer, the film benefits by toning down the horror and focusing on the interplay between the young kids. Some might feel that's watering down King's material, which would be true to some degree, though it makes it more accessible and emotional, focusing on the themes of loss of innocence, fear and survival.

If you've read the King novel, you'll notice a couple of other key changes: it's now set in the late 1980's to give it more of a contemporary feel (the novel was set in the 1950's), strictly focusing on the narrative from the kids' point of view, rather than going back and forth as the novel does. This gives it a familiar "Stranger Things" feel (not to mention, one of the main actors is on that show too), with some genuinely funny moments and warm interplay between the cast.

Speaking of which, "It" is superbly cast and acted from its young principals, especially from the excellent Lieberher ("The Book of Henry") and newcomer Lillis, with strong added support from Jeremy Ray Taylor (Ben), Finn Wolfhard, of "Stranger Things" (as the talkative, coke-bottled glasses wearing Richie), Wyatt Oleff (Stanley), Chosen Jacobs (Mike) and Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie. As the shape shifting, evil clown Pennywise, Skarsgard captures both the childlike essence and his scarier, disturbing qualities too, a turn that stands on its own from Tim Curry's portrayal in the 1990 miniseries.

King's extremely dense novel is much scarier, with less clowning around (sorry, couldn't resist that) from the kids and this goes on a little too long, but "It" still delivers some nice chills and thrills, such a blood-stained bathroom, the opening chilling scene involving the younger brother Georgie, and a few awkwardly scary parents. If "It" delivers at the box-office, and it most certainly will, a sequel is in the works from the adult perspective.

The worthwhile, even touching "It" is not a trick and mostly a treat, with more laughs than chills, and most important, you'll still have a good time.

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