Pennywise the clown

Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgard, returns with an appetite for the original Losers' Club members.

I’ve never watched any version of “It,” or any Stephen King property for that matter, until now. The popularity of it, no pun intended, seems strange since clowns themselves have never been scary to me. 

Without any previous knowledge, “It: Chapter Two” is still easy to follow. A creepy atmosphere, grotesque monsters and an interesting premise for reintroducing the Losers’ Club come together to form a solid horror flick.

The film follows the Losers’ Club 27 years after “It” as Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) informs the rest of the members that Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) has returned after his hibernation. While Hanlon remained in Derry, the rest of the crew moved on and had forgotten about their previous struggles. The group works together to remember their lost memories and complete a ritual to destroy Pennywise once and for all.

As each character relives traumatic moments in their lives, the film presents these memories in fascinating and chilling ways. Although the group goes through the same trauma as before, like sexual abuse, it’s intriguing to see how much it’s affected each member into their adulthood as they’re forced to reconquer their fears. 

Several scenes in the film switch between the past and present, often blending them together as Pennywise twists these memories to make them even more horrific for the Losers’ Club. This includes Richie Tozier (Bill Hader) remembering being ridiculed for his sexuality while visiting an old arcade and park, followed by “It” animating a statue to attack him. Other characters’ memories are altered as well, giving additional insight to events directly after “It.” They show how some insecurities remain into adulthood for characters while still involving supernatural horror.

While humor is incorporated in the film, the jokes are hit or miss. Oftentimes, a failed joke feels forced or gets dragged on for too long, like when people constantly tell Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy) the endings of his stories are terrible. Sometimes, humor isn’t intended, which undermines some of Pennywise’s scenes, as parts feel too goofy to build up the intended suspense. Most comedic scenes that work involve a majority of the Losers’ Club being together. Each member is similar to when they were a child, acting immature around each other as they make fun of each other’s professions. 

“It: Chapter Two” retains the psychedelic and mind-bending horror that worked so well in the first movie despite the occasional joke harming it. In any scene, the environment could change at a moment’s notice as Pennywise toys with the characters. For instance, Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain) could be thrust into a seemingly endless hallway as Pennywise watches her from one end, or the entire club might be terrorized by monsters coming out of their fortune cookies at a Chinese restaurant. Tension also comes from the movie expertly faking impending scares to subvert expectations.

Another element of horror the film uses is its nightmarish visual effects. The film’s tamest parts involve people being dismembered by a clown with several sets of teeth, which is telling of the monstrosities Pennywise appears as to torture the Losers’ Club. The film displays truly grotesque creatures, including a zombified corpse of Bill’s dead brother Georgie, the head of a baby on a spider and a horrifically disfigured elderly woman, which each antagonize members of the Losers’ Club.

“It: Chapter Two” is a solid horror film that uses suspense and thrills rather than the overused trope of jumpscares. With a unique mixture of the original and new cast, each character’s past is explored further as the Losers’ Club is forced to learn how to be brave against Pennywise or die trying. Despite my disliking of horror movies in general, this film works hard to be appreciated and deserves its recognition as truly entertaining.

Contact Caleb Barbachem at barbaccf@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.