If you’re scared of clowns, this film adaptation of Stephen King’s IT will be nigh unwatchable; a ghastly and harrowing testament to anybody who’s ever claimed that clowns are totally inappropriate children’s birthday entertainers. If you’re not scared of clowns, IT is still a very entertaining watch.

As the promising start to a planned duology, IT is full of well-earned frights and unnerving sequences that have been conspicuously absent from the deluge of Paranormal Activity-style ‘help, the ghosts won’t stop making the doors slam’ movies.

The story is set in the quaint US town of Derry, which is plagued by a series of child disappearances. It follows a local group of adolescents whose summer break is somewhat dampened by the exploits of a murderous clown, Pennywise.

“There aren’t any of those eye-rollingly obvious saps whose only point in horror films is to die bloodily.”

There are two big risks with any film featuring children this heavily: bad acting and a bad script – and the horror genre already has plenty of both. This isn’t a problem for IT, with the child actors providing convincing performances as distinctive characters. There aren’t any of those eye-rollingly obvious saps whose only point in horror films is to die bloodily.

A disappearance early on prompts our young protagonists to begin their own investigation. But, in very Stephen King style, they must do so while also battling their own personal dilemmas. These dilemmas are the basis for some honest and engaging coming-of-age plots. Bill Skarsgård plays IT’s iconic shape-shifting villain and clown enthusiast perfectly. Jump scares are avoided in favour of creepy, bloody and occasionally comic sequences. The film makes good use of its resident clown by blending horror and comedy to entertaining and memorable effect. IT’s demonic villain is significantly more fun than those of other horror franchises, who are too preoccupied with moving furniture around to be at all interesting.

A strong score accompanies Pennywise’s every appearance, serving to both ratchet up tension and emphasise his devilish playfulness. The eerie sound of children’s laughter, while a little tropey, works well here.

On tropes: IT features a scary clown, a haunted house and a series of mysterious disappearances. It’s to the film’s credit that it still manages to find thrilling ways to incorporate these overused ideas. Although with such a funny and likeable cast of characters, the film never has to rely on horrific ideas alone to create enjoyable scenes.

The recent spate of real-life creepy clown sightings is proof that evil clowns are enduring staples of the horror genre. And while clown unions have expressed upset about IT’s portrayal of their frankly terrifying profession, horror fans needn’t worry. IT is a great film adaptation worthy of the source material.

★★★★☆

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