How Scary Is ‘It Chapter Two’? The Chills Are Only Amplified By The Sequel’s Silly Humor
Spoilers for It Chapter Two ahead. The return of Derry's fear-feeding, shape-shifting clown brings the now-adult Losers back together in It Chapter Two. The film operates a lot like Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) itself — unexpected moments of levity and bizarre bits of humor only make the frights hit harder when they finally do come. Given that it's goofier and gorier than its predecessor, just how scary is It Chapter Two? Surprisingly, the scares are amplified as much as they are mitigated by the movie's surreal silliness.
Translating Stephen King's work from word to image has always been a difficult proposition — things that read well on paper (like say, a multi-dimensional tongue-biting contest of wills) can come off as unintentionally silly or dull onscreen. For a prime, feature length example of this problem, please check out 2003's Dreamcatcher, a movie that decided to keep all of King's story about friends sharing a psychic bond stopping "ass weasels" from poisoning Earth and ends up having Oscar-winning actors take shoe phone calls from imaginary rooms.
Plenty of It takes place inside the heads of those experiencing sheer terror, but the film version mostly drops this in favor of direct encounters with Pennywise or any of It's proxies. The interesting thing is, It Chapter Two takes the extra step of keeping some of the goofiness, even adding in some of its own that wasn't in the original novel, as if taking Pennywise's own POV on what It thinks would be hilarious.
The film's first scare is pretty straightforward and straight from the source: the reunited Losers are finishing up at a Chinese restaurant. Their fortune cookies reveal disturbing truths, then disturbing creatures — horrible, stunted, squalling things. At the height of the horror, we see things from the waitresses' point of view, which is that a bunch of drunk adults are smashing up a table. It immediately defuses the terror.
The majority of the movie has the Losers tracking down personal artifacts that will unlock their memories and help stop It. Eddie (James Ransone), Richie (Bill Hader), and Bev (Jessica Chastain) are attacked by, respectively: a laughably sore-covered leper, a lumberjack statue come to life, and a cartoonish old hag, each intended to appear sillier to the audience than to the characters whose fears they're playing on, despite each also sensing the sick humor behind the choices. A 10-foot tall nude older woman with googly eyes and swinging breasts looks like something out of the imagination of a six-year old, not the sort of scare most horror movies throw at an audience.
But her movements are insect-fast, just like the leper's over-the-top illness toes the line of gross and goofy and the lumbering lumberjack's sudden reveal of razor teeth turns the scene's tone. It's an interesting gambit, using the human brain's natural conflation of disgust and fear against us. It almost proofs against any of the creatures coming off as just unbelievably silly by intentionally having them be a little disgusting and ridiculous in equal measure. And it's not just the creatures. The plot keeps up the same balance, waiting until Eddie's terrifying moment of triumph to have a cartoon spew of vomit hit or having an adorable Pomeranian pup throw Eddie and Ritchie into cataclysmic confusion at the height of the Losers' final battle against It.
The scares are quite real but telegraphed from miles away, almost as if the filmmakers' followed It's idea of "salting the meat" by dragging out anticipation of fear longer than the scare itself. You'll be able to see any scary moments coming — and there are plenty of them — but they incorporate and are bracketed by silly humor, making the film more of an exhausting mental rollercoaster than straight fright fest.