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It Chapter Two twists comic relief into something awful
It’s pretty easy to forget that clowns are supposed to be funny, which is understandable when you look at some of the most famous clowns around. The Joker? Supervillain. John Wayne Gacy? Serial killer. Ronald McDonald? Promotes unhealthy food. But Pennywise, the child-eating monster from It and the just-released It Chapter Two, is probably the worst offender when it comes to the high crime of making clowns look scary instead of funny. And yet, It Chapter Two is really more of a comedy than it is a horror movie — good for beleaguered clown PR, but kind of a double-edged sword for the movie.
The first It was pretty funny, too. It’s inherently a little funny when kids say the F-word to one another, but It really worked as a movie because of the chemistry between its young stars. Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard and Shazam!'s Jack Dylan Grazer have a great back-and-forth that’s full of clever quips, insults, one-liners, and other jokes — like the New Kids on the Block goof or some of Pennywise’s more uncanny bits — that provide comic relief. They balance the horror scenes, and between the adrenaline from Pennywise’s attacks and dopamine from the jokes, most moviegoers left It feeling like they’d had a great time.
It Chapter Two doesn’t quite nail this balance, and that might come down to a bit of over-correction.
With the exceptions of some flashbacks (which were new scenes shot for the movie), It Chapter Two focuses on the Losers' Club as adults. In Stephen King's original 1986 novel, the adult timeline is by far the darker of the two. There’s less childhood innocence and wonder to this part of the adventure. The friendships that made the kid part warm and nostalgic are literally forgotten in the adult part. The stakes are higher, more real, and not as fun.
**SPOILER WARNING! Minor spoilers lurk below for It Chapter Two!**
Readers who made it through King’s 1,100-page book know that, originally, the two timelines alternated. The movies, understandably, split the story up chronologically. Problem is, that means that the second movie, if it was totally faithful to the book, was going to be a big bummer compared to the first It. So Chapter Two has gobs of added comedy — mostly from Bill Hader (adult Richie) and James Ransone (adult Eddie), but also from Pennywise himself, who is just straight-up pitching comedy sketches for some of his “scares.” Seriously, a legitimately funny bit happens during the final showdown with Pennywise, when Eddie and Richie run into three doors labeled “scary,” “very scary,” and “not scary at all," a bit originally taken from the first movie (when the kids are battling Pennywise in the Neibolt House) but used to greater effect in Chapter Two.
It’s one of the funnier parts in an already funny movie, which might actually be a problem. During what should be a tense, high-stakes duel to the death with Pennywise, the Losers' Club is instead cracking wise and riffing jokes. A little comic relief is a good thing in a horror movie — you need a bit of levity, otherwise the movie will be one-note and there will be nothing to measure the scares against. It Chapter Two, though, is so full of jokes that it almost feels like the horror is secondary — call it “scary relief.”
Movies such as Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland have shown that horror-comedies that lean more in the comedy direction can be great. Those movies, though, know when to deploy horror for horror’s sake. Just as how horror hits harder when comic relief gives viewers a chance to catch their breath, comedy works better when it contrasts with actual horror with actual stakes.
When Shaun of the Dead is dark, it’s actually dark. Simon Pegg isn’t making a bunch of quips, and what few jokes there are during the more somber parts of the film don’t upset the mood. It Chapter Two’s comedy is all-consuming, though, as it immediately deflates whatever suspense and tension Pennywise’s manifestations had worked up.
It also helps that the scary parts of Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland aren’t, well, boring.
It Chapter Two has some great scares, but at nearly three hours long, a lot of what Pennywise does feels like filler. The middle hour, especially, as it falls into a pattern where we follow each member of the Losers’ Club — first for a new flashback to a time Pennywise scared them as kids (which we know they’ll ultimately escape from because it’s a flashback), and then for Pennywise scaring them in the present day as adults. In most of those present-day scares, Pennywise seems like he can’t or won’t actually hurt the Losers, so again, the scares aren’t there. During these scenes, chance are you'll just be waiting for the jokes to come back.
That leaves It Chapter Two in an odd spot where it’s funnier than it is scary, but that abundance of funny still feels like a relief because a lot of the horror is a repetitive drag. Comic relief should be more of a breath of fresh air and not a heaving gasp from someone attempting to swim back to safe, stable land. As with Pennywise’s impersonations, something about It Chapter Two’s balance of horror and comedy is more than a little bit off.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.