There's a reason that Stephen King's IT has endured all these years. Its portrait of childhood -- one of bullies, of ritual humiliations, of neglectful parents, of puberty and self-loathing -- is universal. And there's something awesomely compelling about an eternal beast that lies waiting in the sewers, a creature as old as time that feeds on children, in part because of the tastiness of their boundless imagination and fear. In IT, coming of-age in suburbia meets the unthinkable horror of the beyond: E.T. meets Cthulhu.
So now IT the movie has arrived. After a tense and deeply unsettling opening, director Andy Muschietti springs lots of jump scares on us. With what feels like growing desperation, IT ladles on more scares, more set pieces, the consequences becoming less meaningful.
It is most interesting when the camera follows the film's young heroes -- all harried outcasts, calling themselves "The Losers' Club" -- gliding from one to the other, cataloguing their daily humiliations. Gone is the sheer goofiness of some of the novel -- the cuts that bleed the life from so many Stephen King adaptations, rendering them either shorn of personality or too strange to endure. (So, yeah, no ridiculous child-orgy scene.) But the silliness is not gone entirely. As Pennywise the Clown -- that painted, grinning, shape-shifting creature that is the vaguely humanoid manifestation of the story's central evil -- Bill Skarsgård seems to be having fun with his bizarre entreaties to his victims, though he's more outlandish than terrifying.