Send in the (killer) clowns: ‘It Chapter Two’ is innovative horror, equal parts comedy

Illustration of clown from It
Vivian Du/Staff

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Grade: 3.5/5.0

Following the monstrous success of 2017’s “It,” Andy Muschietti was saddled with an impossible task: Take one of the most important Western pop culture phenomenons in recent memory, and top it. 

Part of the insanely positive reception of “It” was the tangible energy of its young cast. It was almost as if “Chapter One” stumbled into its success — a ragtag group of relative unknowns stole the world’s heart, and Muschietti paid attention. The wealth of chemistry among the “It” kids was a difficult thing to contend with in “It Chapter Two,” a film centered around their adult counterparts. 

So Muschietti did the next most logical thing — he used CGI to age the cast of the 2017 film down to their appropriate ages and ensured that the younger cast made extensive appearances throughout the film. 

“It Chapter Two” employs flashback after flashback to wring some more magic out of these kids. But rather than achieve this end, the flashbacks feel like the franchise is playing catch-up with itself — trying to exaggerate incredibly important plot devices that, by and large, should have been established in the first film. When faced with the daunting task of parsing out what details were critical to a successful adaptation of the Stephen King novel, it’s understandable that some were left on the cutting room floor of the first film.

Thus many of the themes that “It Chapter Two” explores are exciting facets of the novel that have yet to appear in other adaptations of King’s work. For longtime fans of “It,” it’s exhilarating to witness. It really does feel like Muschietti sought to give the fans everything they could possibly want, but this gratuitous fan service is where things get a bit messy. 

Getting to revisit the young “losers” and explore moments in their lives that the first film didn’t get to touch on is a treat. But in their excess, these moments feel more like a deleted scenes reel than a new film. On top of this, critical aspects of certain characters are relegated to these flashbacks — things that are merely subtextual in the first film, and thus not substantial enough to support their exploration in the sequel. 

At times, this is distracting. But even considering these glaring issues, it is hard to be overcome by the drawbacks when there is so much else to love about the film. 

While it is a joy to revisit the younger cast, their chemistry just as intact as before, the undeniable talent the adult cast brings to the franchise is impossible to ignore. Every cast member brings a nuance to their character that reveals a careful attention to the kids they are picking up the torch from, as well as an inherent understanding of the characters themselves. From James McAvoy’s valiant and emotional Bill to Bill Hader’s transformative and layered Richie, the cast carries the film through many of its pitfalls. 

And Bill Skarsgård’s terrifying and absurd Pennywise sets the tone for the way many of the scares in the film operate. “It Chapter Two” straddles an incredibly thin line of comedy and horror, its scares almost always supplemented by a sheer laughability that somehow makes the whole shebang even more frightening. The film is filled with some of the most despicable monsters you’ve ever seen, but even so it never shies away from laughing at itself and acknowledging the unique niche between laughs and scares that it occupies.

In this way, the film is incredibly self-aware. While it isn’t the height of cinema, it certainly knows how to show its audience a good time. Because, at its core, the film isn’t asking you for much — just to sit down, strap in and watch some phenomenal characters “kill this fucking clown.” 

Areyon Jolivette is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].