It Chapter Two, 2019.
Directed by Andy Muschietti.
Starring James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Skargard, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Teach Grant, Jaeden Martell, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, and Nicholas Hamilton.
Twenty-seven years after their first encounter with the terrifying Pennywise, the Losers Club have grown up and moved away, until a devastating phone call brings them back.
Making a successful sequel to a hit horror movie is one thing, but doing so when the source material for the sequel already exists, and said source material is famously difficult to adapt no less, is a commanding challenge for any filmmaker.
So it’s not terribly surprising – though certainly somewhat disappointing – that It Chapter Two is quite the step down from its tight, smoothly controlled predecessor, which decisively one-upped its 1990 TV-movie forebear while paying (mostly) studious tribute to Stephen King’s 1986 classic novel.
Still, this second part is nevertheless a significant improvement over the unbearably silly – and similarly over-stuffed – TV-movie climax, even if with so many exemplary resources working in its favour, it’s tough not to view this effort as a bit of a missed opportunity.
Taking place 27 years after the Losers supposedly defeated Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård), Chapter Two begins with the trans-dimensional entity violently re-emerging in the sleepy town of Derry, Maine. This prompts the only Loser to stick around in Derry, Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), to cash-in the group’s blood oath and organise a most unfortunate reunion with his pals, to destroy Pennywise once and for all.
The sheer scope and (apocryphally cocaine-fuelled) daring of King’s book, which features child orgies and ancient cosmic turtles, does not inherently vibe well with the conservative attitudes of mainstream Hollywood. But to their credit, returning director Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman found a way to capture the nasty, otherworldly spirit of King’s novel in Chapter One, and they certainly cannot be faulted for their enthusiasm this time around, either.
However, having sat through all of this sequel’s 169 minutes, it’s tough not to suspect that the sharply positive response to its predecessor emboldened the filmmakers to forget about the fundamental differences between written and cinematic storytelling, attempting instead to deliver a misguidedly exhaustive rendition of King’s book.
Following a strong opening sequence which sets the stage for Pennywise’s next reign of terror, the pic struggles to re-introduce the aged Losers in anything beyond perfunctory fashion, catching us up with the protagonists as though hurriedly ticking off a shopping list, while delivering only the scantest trace of actual, honest-to-God character development.
And were it not for the immaculate casting of the Losers, these scenes would prove decidedly more wearisome; every part from small to large has been cast with a mind-boggling verisimilitude to their younger selves – especially the terrific James Ransone as Eddie. And though audiences might be expecting acting heavyweights like James McAvoy (Bill) or Jessica Chastain (Beverly) to run away with the film, it’s actually Bill Hader who steals practically every scene he’s in as a delightfully spot-on grown-up version of wise-cracking potty-mouth Richie Tozier.
Less well-served this time around, regrettably, is Bill Skarsgård, who brought Pennywise to pulse-quickening life so wonderfully in the previous film. Skarsgård’s sense of presence remains uniquely terrifying here, yet he’s also massively under-utilised, spending huge portions of the film entirely off-screen, while his eventual appearances don’t sufficiently compensate. That the film gets close to failing its iconic antagonist while being given a carte blanche runtime is perhaps It Chapter Two‘s most glaring failure.
But it’s the film’s saggy middle-portion that truly threatens to derail the ride entirely, sending the Losers off on a series of ho-hum fetch quests to retrieve personal trinkets that will help them battle Pennywise. These mini-arcs for each character typically result in a sequence of them obtaining said token, juxtaposed against a flashback featuring their younger selves encountering Pennywise during that fateful 1989 summer – encounters we naturally weren’t privy to during the first movie.
Like the first act’s character introductions, these sprawling sequences feel excessively formulaic, bogging the film down for a solid 45 minutes while blatantly recycling many of the scares we witnessed in the previous film. Again, without such strong work from the cast both young and old, some of these scenes would be dangerously close to snooze-inducing.
Part of the problem is the abject lack of tension or intensity, in part due to the aforementioned rehashing but also the generally middling quality of the set-pieces, agonisingly broad as they are. The first film found a neat middle-ground where it delivered accessible horror thrills with enough bone-rattling intensity to overcome their familiarity, but in Chapter Two, the “shocks” feel so disappointingly stock, over-relying on jump scares as they do.
As for the finale? Opinions are likely to be incredibly mixed across-the-board; King fans may complain that it isn’t faithful enough to the source, while neophytes may simply find it an oddly flat, anti-climactic end to the story. Though Muschietti does find some compelling pathos at the eleventh hour – again, largely thanks to the cast – Pennywise’s ability to terrify doesn’t feel bore out by his “final form”, if you like.
It is, in many ways, simply a miracle that something this aggressively excessive and off-kilter even exists; it is a film rife with enough peculiar tonal and storytelling choices to give a studio exec a coronary, and yet, all of its 169 minutes are now playing in cinemas worldwide. That feels like something which should be celebrated, and yet, one can’t help but hesitate because so many of Muschietti’s instincts – working from Dauberman’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink script, of course – feel so weirdly slack, even careless.
But for many horror fans, its sheer desire to play so far in the left-field will be enough to politely champion it, taking a brave stab at some of the kookier aspects of King’s novel even if ultimately stopping short of the full gonzo mark.
It Chapter Two frustrates in all of its ambition, for the impeccable performances and deliciously dark storytelling are forever at the mercy of a messy, over-indulgent script.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.