One of the big surprises of IT Chapter One was perhaps its reluctance to fully lean into the horror and terror provided so readily by the source material.
Andy Muschietti delivered a horror movie as much steeped in the nostalgia of Amblin and Spielberg as the abundant supernatural and human horrors that Stephen King served up in his 1986 genre-defining classic.
The result was a movie that tapped into the wistful joy that the zeitgeist behemoth Stranger Things had been delivering for several seasons, while re-inventing a horror icon in Pennywise the Dancing Clown. This mix of nostalgia and popcorn proved a heady mix at the box office, creating one of the most profitable and well received horror films of the past twenty years.
IT Chapter Two arrives with the weight of expectation resting on its bulky shoulders; twenty-seven years have passed for the Loser’s Club, but only two years have passed for an audience full of excited fans.
Muschietti delivers a film that leans harder into the darkness and pain that our characters have survived, painting a broader picture and a deeper understanding of our heroes over the course of an almost three hour run time. The darkness is kept at bay with performances across the board that bring warmth, love and humour to an adult cast of Loser’s who are bound together through grief and loyalty.
Twenty-Seven years after defeating the evil that resides in Derry, our gang return to their hometown to confront Pennywise as he awakens from hibernation. Having left town, the memories of what the Losers endured have long ago been swept away by the fog of time. Only Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), who has remained in Derry, has retained the full horror of what he and his friends experienced.
IT Chapter Two at times feels like a nastier, angrier movie than the first. Our opening scene features a brutal and shameful homophobic attack that is as unpleasant and horrid as anything Pennywise himself will perpetrate. It is a painful reminder that although almost thirty years have passed in our story, some attitudes remain entrenched in another lifetime.
Muschietti wastes no time in bringing our characters back together: Mike acts as our anchor in Derry, tying the Loser’s to the blood pact they made in their youth. As he calls our Loser’s one by one, opening a floodgate of memories long buried, our gang are pulled home to fulfil their promise.
Our characters are pulled apart no sooner than they meet (in a nauseating but fun dinner table scene) in order to find their individual totems from their youth that they will need for the final battle with Pennywise.
What follows is a film about the bonds of friendship and loyalty, of facing the darkness within in order to fight the darkness Pennywise exudes. The adult cast are uniformly excellent; in a film that cannot spend as much time unwrapping each individual in the way that the source material can, it is a credit to the performances that each character feels fully rounded and convinces as the damaged adults our gang were ever destined to become.
Some of the cast do not get as much opportunity to shine as others, the plot machinations limiting the amount of time we can spend with certain individuals. Mike, burdened with the weight of exposition, perhaps struggles most to make an impression as his troubled librarian who at times seems to be unravelling through the pressure of his role. As Bill, James McAvoy provides the film with its leading man who is pushing against the limits of his fear in order to do what must be done.
Jessica Chastain (who publicly campaigned for the role) convinces as the damaged but unbroken Bev, a woman whose present has been shaped by the trauma of her past. Bev has one of the films showstopping scenes as she returns to her family home for the first time in thirty years: a scene that was previewed in early trailers but contains a killer ending that was advisedly kept hidden.
James Ransone as Eddie is a delight; an uncanny resemblance to his young counterpart (Jack Dylan Grazer), his mannerisms convince that we are watching the natural growth of a young boy with mother issues that would make Oedipus blush. Jay Ryan is the grown-up Ben Hanscome, the lovelorn chubby Loser maturing into a hunky but troubled architect. Andy Bean is Stanley Uris, the Loser perhaps most affected by his ordeal in the sewers all those years ago and struggles the most with the weight of the promise he made.
The standout in a cast of great performances in IT: Chapter Two though is Bill Hader. The quick-witted comedy actor is perfectly suited to play the grown-up Richie Tozier; a successful comedian trying to outrun his own secrets and pain, his ‘Trashmouth’ persona the perfect cover to hide behind when the scotch cant quite keep his emotions in check.
A subplot that runs through the film involving Richie pays off with one of the most touching scenes in both movies; this reviewer will confess to getting a little misty eyed in the final act as Richie finally confronts his deeply buried feelings. With the success of his TV show Barry, it is great to see Hader given more dramatic roles to stretch his acting chops.
It: Chapter Two is a film where safety is an alien concept. There are no characters safe from the reach of death, no horror laden avenue that the film is afraid to explore. It is a film that revels in its horror iconography: a monster-movie that has the benefit of throwing everything at the wall due to the nature of its villain.
From creepy haunted houses and funfairs filled with menace to the everyday normalcy and safety of suburbia; Derry’s rotten core perverts and transforms every environment into dangerous and uneasy spaces where anything can happen. While sometimes the film relies a little too much on jump scares and CGI, the very real and menacing central villain provides more than enough menace to compensate.
And the rotten, beating heart of the movie is supplied by Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise the Clown. Chapter One had already established his place in pop culture cannon as an unsettling and omniscient villain, his discordant sing-song timbre screeching its way into the collective consciousness.
The passage of time finds a fouler and angrier villain; his defeat long ago haunting him as he slept, patiently waiting for his opportunity to get his claws on the Loser’s Club. Pennywise uses our character’s childhood trauma’s against them, but now has twenty-seven years of adult neuroses and pain to work with as well; Skarsgard provides a deeply unnerving presence that permeates the film, and the less is more adage is applied here to keep Pennywise a cleverly deployed weapon.
The film makes sweeping changes to the final act of the book, creating a discombobulating and off-kilter finale that leans into the godlike abilities of the creature behind the clown’s face. The origins of the monster are hinted at throughout the film, and the final confrontation plays out in wonderfully unexpected ways meaning fans of the book cannot easily discern what is going to happen as the film barrels towards its conclusion.
IT: Chapter Two is a bona fide horror blockbuster; a film that is allowed to breathe and stretch its limbs, to take its time in telling the story it wants to tell. The almost three-hour runtime can seem a little daunting from the outside, but the film zips along delivering brilliantly creepy set-pieces that flit between disturbing and thrilling, making you wonder where the three hours went.
It is a film lovingly made, showing respect to the novel that spawned it but unafraid to take its own path when the story demands it. And perhaps most importantly, it is a worthy conclusion to an original movie that many horror fans took to their heart thanks to a wonderful cast of talented child actors.
Come home to Derry. We all float down here.
By Hugh McStay
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