There are moments in Andy Muschietti’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel about a quaint-yet-cursed Maine village (Very Bad Things happen every 27 years, many of them having to do with kids) where the sights and sounds are enough. Those are 12-year-old kids up there on the screen seeing their worst nightmares come to life, courtesy of a demonic clown (ably portrayed by Bill Skarsgård) — and because we sympathize, because everyone remembers what it was like to be scared as a child, to quiver without power or comprehension before awfulness real or imagined, we make their terror our own. But they are only moments. This is partly intentional: the clunky script is forever slipping in comic relief via a potty-mouthed wisecracker, as if the film lacks confidence in our ability to suffer along with the kids. It’s also partly unintentional, as scene after scene is presented so clumsily that all we’re left to be scared of are the effects. And effects wear thin pretty quickly. Horror’s power here does not come from monstrous imagery, but from the encounter with evil: abusive parents (sexually and otherwise), sadistic bullies, a town so benumbed by violence that it simply shrugs when its children go missing. Muschietti seems to miss that, going for teeth over terror from the get-go. (2017) — Matthew Lickona
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