There have been enough Stephen King adaptations in recent years that the man doesn’t need to be introduced anymore. It, the second longest of his 61 novels to date, performed remarkably well in its secretly titled Chapter One instalment of 2017. Two years later, the Loser kids are back, they’ve brought their adult counterparts with them, their film is 34 whole minutes longer, and everything is like a well worn pair of slippers.
Twenty seven years after clown demon Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) was banished from Derry, evil and hatred return to the town. The Losers Club are gathered by Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) to do away with Pennywise once and for all – but this time they don’t have the power of childhood imagination to help them, and they have only incomplete memories of the summer of 1989.
There is something inherently strange about watching a film where the characters have mutual amnesia, but the viewer knows everything that happened provided they’ve seen the first movie. The dual narrative that served the book so well is only marginally utilised here with extra scenes showcasing the original cast, some of which add to the camaraderie of the crew, but others of which add Pennywise scares that don’t make any sense in the context of the story.
Director Andy Muschietti (It) has suggested that he is trying to get a six plus hour supercut off the ground which, if edited together optimally, will strike the right tone across both of the parts.
At one point after yet another inanimate object approaches the Losers with sinister intent, Bill says “I think I’m starting to get used to this”. It Chapter Two takes every opportunity that it can to cram the scares in; it’s a long film but it is by no means a slow boil. This means that it can become somewhat exhausting to see scene after scene where a character breaks the eternal rule — don’t go in there alone — only for Pennywise to pop out of something, or for something to turn into Pennywise, or for Pennywise to just kind of say “hi” to an individual Loser. The saturation of the clown takes something of his allure away to the point that one gets the impression that he’s just lonely and desperate for attention.
What It: Chapter Two needs is more of the mundane, the horror that lurks in the heart of man that cuts to the core of what King finds truly scary. The film opens with a brutal hate crime, largely divorced from any sort of context for someone not au fait with the source material. The film could have dug deeper on its domestic violence angle, as well, but the scope of Gary Dauberman’s (Annabelle Comes Home) script does not really allow for the concept that any of the Losers had lives in their intervening years: the audience knows everything about their pasts, but next to nothing about their presents.
None of this is to say that It: Chapter Two is without magic. It is legitimately good to see the crew again in their younger forms, and their older versions are well cast. Bill Hader’s (TV’s Barry) Richie is the film’s emotional core, and Hader delivers a remarkably vulnerable performance that reveals the truth of the group dynamic: Richie is the comedian, but Eddie (James Ransone) is the funny one. As ostensible leader Bill, James McAvoy (X-Men: Dark Phoenix) has to carry the seriousness of the plot … but also to shoulder the accusation that he is a best selling horror author who cannot write a decent ending to save his life.
That’s what people don’t tell you about the It films: they provide multiple deliberate laughs. Muschietti could very easily transition to dark comedies and he would be welcome there. Pennywise isn’t funny — he’s a clown — but when Muschietti isn’t trying to ramp up the scares he’s providing a sense of comfort. If we’re too familiar with much of the schtick to be scared by it, we can at least enjoy the company of these forgotten friends. This means that It: Chapter Two may be a disappointment to heavy horror fans — mainstream horror often is —but it feels like home.
It: Chapter Two can’t stand as well on its own as its predecessor, and part of that is because it is missing a vital part of the structure needed to prop up the adults’ story. Muschietti demonstrates an unerring feel for atmosphere, and though Derry is fundamentally evil it is difficult not to be pulled into your time there. Stephen King and his adaptations aren’t going anywhere, and It Chapters One and Two combine to form a stirring, if imperfect, tribute to a difficult and sprawling work.
It Chapter Two opened in Australian cinemas on September 4, 2019.
Directed by: Andy Muschietti.
Starring: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ransone, Jay Ryan, Andy Bean and Bill Skarsgård.