This long-anticipated sequel to 2017’s IT takes what remains of Stephen King’s magnum opus and does an admirable job of bringing it to a massive, darker, emotional close.
I vividly remember sitting in an opening day screening of Andy Muschietti’s IT on a beautiful fall day, two years ago. The climax had hit, the Losers Club had made their pact to return to Derry to kill Pennywise should he ever return, and the camera retreats into the sewers of the Barrens, and the title floats above the water. It’s then that the subtitle – Chapter One – appears. And someone down in front shouted, “Oh sh-t! There’s gonna be a Chapter Two!” His wife then began to – loudly – explain that Stephen King’s novel is about a thousand pages long and that so much had been left out, so of course, there had to be an It Chapter Two. And finally, it’s here.
The first film paints a horrific portrait of life in Derry, Maine. On the surface, Derry is an idyllic town, but something dark lurks beneath it, slithering through the sewers, plucking and mauling children at will. It’s an evil that causes the town to not even recognize their own cancerous apathy, their own fears, and it’s rotting Derry from beneath. That’s where the Loser’s Club comes in.
The Losers Club is a group of seven kids who can somehow see through It’s glamour that overshadows the town for what it is: an evil, dancing clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). In 1988, after investigating a series of gruesome killings, the Losers beat Pennywise, though he’s not truly dead. Twenty-seven years later, he’s returned to kill again. So, with a call from Mike Hanlon, the Losers return to Derry to take up arms against Pennywise.
That’s all the recap I’ll give here – this is a movie to see without any spoilers. It’s also a movie whose book you should read (or reread, as was my job this summer). Stephen King, who’s known for his lengthy tomes, wrote this doorstopper of a novel, and it’s a masterpiece about growing up, love, fear, tragedy, recovery, friendship, and memory. It’s a must-read for everyone, but especially horror lovers.
IT: Chapter Two picks up nearly three decades after its predecessor, and does an effective job of both bringing us up to speed on who our beloved Losers have become and laying out their job: to “kill this f—ing clown.” James McAvoy plays adult Bill, Jessica Chastain plays Beverly, Bill Hader plays Richie, Isaiah Mustafa plays Mike, Jay Ryan plays Ben, James Ransone plays Eddie, and Andy Bean plays Stan – all pitch-perfect counterparts to their teen characters. But let’s be honest, Chastain, McAvoy, and Hader are really noticeably on an entirely different acting level than the rest. I really do applaud the filmmakers’ ability to help us latch onto the adult versions of the characters we met and loved in IT. Quickly, they set up the players, establishing an easy rapport between these estranged friends. And quickly we’re brought into the peril awaiting them in Derry.
This is a darker film than IT, though I don’t see it as truly scarier. Stephen King has long been stronger at portraying our own inner demons as more frightening than anything external–and Pennywise feeds on those inner demons while also externalizing those frights. Muschietti has deftly captured King’s ability here. There are certainly a few moments where I squinted at the screen, knowing a jump scare was just around the corner, but overall it’s much more of an emotionally intense film than a viscerally disturbing watch. At its core, this is about the bond between friends that battles the will of something that wants to isolate and destroy. This story rings relevant and true and works well.
On the other hand, Muschietti and writer Gary Dauberman did try to put their own stamp on King’s story. Many of the changes worked well; some cuts streamlined extraneous or drawn-out subplots, while other minor subplots were added, making the film a tad unwieldy at times. Truly, just about anything not Stephen King stuck out like a sore thumb. It also suffers from Muschietti not filming both Chapters back-to-back. Some of the changes might have worked had we flowed more smoothly from Chapter One to Chapter Two. Also, the kids are noticeably older (and taller), though Muschietti tries to hide that fact–largely through ADR and what seems to be de-aging of the young Losers (have we ever de-aged teenagers before)? It leads to an unsettling uncanny valley that put me off and distracted me quite often.
All that being said, this is an emotionally satisfying end to this duology. There are things I was surprised they added, while other things I thought should have been left behind. IT: Chapter Two brings the saga of The Losers Club and their battle against Pennywise the Clown to a long, emotional close. It’s fun, scary (to a point), but focused less on the scares than on the bonds between friends.