Starring Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan. Directed by Andy Muschietti
Andy Muschietti’s 2017 adaptation of the first half of the epic Stephen King tale of a inter-dimensional monster that feeds on fear and hunts children in a small New England town of Derry, Maine was a box office mega hit, smashing records for horror movies, R rated movies, and generally being one of the better King adaptations. It also had the weight of being a part one — part two has taken two years to craft, and with a staggering near three hour run time it’s no brief cash-in but an epic tale of good vs evil, light vs dark and love vs fear.
The set up is as it was in the book, and the so-so (save for a great Tim Curry performance) miniseries adaptation. In 2016, 27 years after the Losers defeated Pennywise in the sewers of Derry, It returns to feast once more, meaning the blood oath the kids swore has come back to be made good. The Losers are living their adult lives with little memory of their childhood, and no contact with anyone else, but their past begins to live beside them as Pennywise hunts them again.
The film isn’t so much a sequel, as a companion piece, it speaks to the first film with deleted scenes coming into use and the original cast and the new essentially playing like scene partners. Muschietti had a great affection for the ’89 vintage of Losers, and there could be a fear that it wouldn’t carry over into their adulthood, but fear not. His and screenwriter Gary Dauberman’s love for this group is evident from their quaint life introductions.
The Losers have moved on, and Muschietti is interested in how, Bill (James McAvoy / Jaeden Martell) is now a successful novelist known for terrible endings, Bev (Jessica Chastain / Sophia Lillis) is a successful fashion designer in an abusive marriage, Richie (Bill Hader / Finn Wolfhard) is a popular stand-up comedian, Eddie (James Randsome / Jack Dylan Grazer) is a risk analyst with a paranoid wife, Ben (Jay Ryan / Jeremy Ray Taylor) has shed his weight and founded a successful architecture firm, Stan (Andy Bean / Wyatt Oleff) is a happily married Jewish man living a peaceful life, but Mike (Isaiah Mustafa / Chosen Jacobs) has decided to stay in Derry as the librarian, spending his life searching for answers on what It is, and what can be done to stop it.
Aside from a brief ‘previously on It’ section, the beginning is a fairly hard hitting non-supernatural horror show of a gay couple being attacked by homophobes. Xavier Dolan portrays one of the two in a sequence that is as hard to watch as any monster clown chowing on children could ever be. It’s achingly real, and Muschietti isn’t afraid to really force you into watching it, it’s not stylish, or tragic, it’s brutal and that’s a word that comes into play for most of the film.
For the most part, It Chapter Two is a parallel of the first, scenes echo one another, like fate playing a divine hand. This time there is some enjoyment to be had in the adults being scared, but the fears don’t seem to be as primal as when they were children, and while the first was like The Goonies crossed with Poltergeist or A Nightmare on Elm Street, this plays much more on the action-humour than the scares. That’s not to say there aren’t any.
This film, like the first, works because of the core characters and their chemistry. A dinner scene that reunites them shows the kind of group dynamic that made the first so enjoyable, and so touching. There’s no nostalgia to coast on this time, but the cast make the lengthy run time feel breezy because their presence is so lived in.
The stand outs are probably Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader and returning Bill Skarsgard. Hader in particular is lucky since he has the most alluring role, Richie is the funny one, and the one with some of the most catharsis to play off of, and Hader shows layers he’s not shown he had before. Scenes of him confronting his own personal issues are every bit as compelling as watching him be menaced by a scary clown.
There’s a strange choice to sideline Pennywise for most of the film, instead opting for him to menace in others ways despite it being clear the clown is what they fear, and one of the down points of the film is the clear increase in budget and control Muschietti has. The run time is long, and still manages to exclude major plot points of the book, but the increase in money means some of the haunting are CGI renderings, like a hokey tall naked woman, or a giant statue of Paul Bunyan which is in no way scarier than a scene of Skarsgard luring a little girl to her doom by pretending to cry.
The mythology is also somewhat confused, never quite focusing on what Pennywise is, can do or how to properly defeat him, but perhaps that’s a criticism of the novel also, and deep down as with most horror films, the final confrontation is never scarier than just seeing glimpses of the monster.
Those issues aside, and the clear problem that adult Losers are less compelling by-and-large than children Losers, the way in which the film deals with trauma should be commended. It could be easy to just say things are solved, but to explore the sort of strangle hold bullying has on people – homophobia, sexual abuse, fat shaming – goes to show that it lingers for the longest time.
There’s also no doubt that Muschietti is sitting on a four hour cut somewhere since the inclusion of characters like Bill’s wife Audra or Bev’s husband Tom are clearly there for subplots from the book that are never made good on, mean that there is something in an extended cut, but as the second half of a two film saga, that explores love and friendship with some jumps and bumps along the way It Chapter Two will satisfy the hungry fans, and King obsessives alike, even if it never hits the heights of it’s first part.
But it floats well enough.