IT Chapter Two won’t make a lot of sense if you haven’t seen the first installment, but it’ll be immensely satisfying for fans – and may even win over franchise agnostics.
The final film in a two-part adaptation of Stephen King’s 1138-page novel, Andy Muschietti’s IT Chapter Two concludes the saga of a group of outcasts who do battle with a shapeshifting evil from another world. The creature, which has been feeding on the town of Derry, Maine for generations, can take the form of its victims’ deepest fears, but most often materializes as a child-eating clown named Pennywise.
Chapter One saw its school-aged heroes (dubbed “The Losers Club”) scare the creature into a temporary hibernation. In Chapter Two, Pennywise’s fated return forces the Losers back to Derry in the hopes of defeating it for good (although as far as they’re concerned, they’re on a suicide mission).
I was always a fan of King’s original novel and its 1990 miniseries adaptation, to the extent that Muschietti’s first adaptation couldn’t help but feel a little paint-by-numbers to me. That film, however, was elevated by an excellent young ensemble cast who had infectious chemistry together. It also benefited from sharp, wisecracking dialogue that was relentlessly entertaining without feeling inauthentic.
Muschietti’s assembled a flawless cast here, too, with James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Jay Ryan, James Ransone and Bill Hader playing older, more world-weary version of the characters.
The transition is seamless but a little sad. Bill, still haunted by the death of his younger brother at the hands of Pennywise, is a horror writer who can’t allow himself a happy ending. Bev (a victim of childhood sexual abuse tragically deemed “easy” by the town gossips) is now in a violent marriage to a man who likely reminds her of her predator father. Former fat kid Ben is now a successful architect with movie star good looks and all of his old insecurities. Eddie, the neurotic son of an overbearing mother, is now – appropriately – a risk assessor married to a henpecking wife. And Richie, the motormouthed kid who grew up to be a stand-up comedian, is still using humour as a mask, his ill-timed jokes belying his sense of encroaching doom. As for anxious, wise-beyond-his-years Stanley Uris…well, let’s just say we don’t see much of him.
Ironically, the only Loser who never left Derry is the one with the most reason to hate the place. Mike, who suffered through the town’s pernicious racism in addition to the loss of both his parents, chose to stay behind to watch for the evil’s return. As the only one of the group who still has strong memories of Pennywise, he’s the one who calls the Losers back to do battle after twenty-seven years of peace. He’s also lost his mind a little.
These characters haven’t seen each other in decades, but almost instantly fall into their old patterns of playful ribbing and bickering. (Richie, played with a mix of fatalism and joviality by Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader, gets in most of the best lines). It’s the type of uproarious humour you see when old friends meet up to relive their glory days, interrupted all-too-soon by a freakish apparition that makes The Thing look like a puppy dog.
The horror scenes here are generally more intense than they were last time around. I especially appreciated a nightmarish chance meeting between Bev and the strange old woman in her former apartment. Hypochondriac Eddie’s grisly showdown with a leper is almost unbearably disturbing and unexpectedly empowering (as the Cowardly Lion of the group, Eddie has one of the film’s best arcs).
The Losers’ traumatized minds are funhouses for Pennywise, who feeds on fear – not just everyday aversions to the things that go bump in the night, but the secret terrors buried deep in the mind, and the phobic prejudices that tear people apart. IT has more grown-up horrors to play with this time; a devastating opening scene showing a homophobic hate crime is echoed by the clown’s relentless taunting of a closeted Richie.
I will admit, the design of the clown has grown on me. When Chapter One came out, I wasn’t sold on Pennywise’s new look, I felt that Bill Skarsgård’s purely monstrous performance paled in comparison to Tim Curry’s more beguiling, period-appropriate clown. But his alien appearance actually adds something in this installment, and Skarsgård’s characterization feels more fully-realized. This film also benefits from the blending of past and present, a structure that worked so beautifully in the book, and incorporates some of King’s more mystical elements.
In short, IT Chapter Two builds on everything its predecessor did right, while ratcheting up the unpredictability, risk-taking, and visceral horror. The result is a film that’s a bit messier but somehow more assured than its predecessor, a rare sequel that not only improves upon but enriches the original.
Title: IT Chapter Two
Director: Andy Muschietti
Screenwriter: Gary Dauberman