Director: Andy Muschietti
Cast: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Teach Grant, Sophia Lillis, Jaeden Martell, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Nicholas Hamilton, Bill Skarsgård
Clowns. You love them or you hate them (or you can be indifferent but you’re probably in a very small minority). They’ve always been a source of fear for many people, and of course Stephen King would take that fear (and many others) to a new level. It Chapter 2, less a sequel than a continuation of 2017’s It, introduces the adult perspectives of the source novel, bringing with it new insights into what would be written off in reality as children’s imaginations running away with themselves. Horror is not easy to write, and it can be very difficult to visualise an imagination as intense as King’s. So, what can you expect from this second installment? More of the same? Something entirely different to the book? Read on to find out…
Twenty-seven years after the events of It, Mike (Mustafa) calls the members of the Loser’s Club back to their hometown of Derry, after they all made a promise as children to return should Pennywise (Skarsgård), an evil clown with a thirst for blood, ever come back and start killing again. As adults, they all find they’ve forgotten what happened (in a supernatural rather than repressive kind of way), although they instinctively feel deeply unsettled and reluctant to go. Upon their return to Derry, their memories come back in a hurry, as does Pennywise and all the tricks and violence he loves to rain upon them. Mike informs them all that he’s discovered a way that they might be able to kill Pennywise once and for all, and if they don’t succeed, they will all die. Bill (McAvoy) finds himself still heavily guilt-ridden over his younger brother Georgie’s (Jackson Robert Scott) death and tries to take on Pennywise to protect the children of Derry and without endangering his friends, with the gang struggling to stay true to the creed of the Loser’s Club. It will take all of them together to defeat Pennywise, but it might take more strength and will than any of them possess.
It (the first movie) was, in a word, excellent. Although it moved away from the narrative structure of the novel, it worked well and introduced the Losers and Pennywise in a well-rounded and entertaining way, keeping the frights whilst giving the whole story enough depth to keep us engaged (something King’s stories are generally renowned for). Chapter 2 returns more faithfully to the source material, paying homage to the book’s structure of having adult and child memories and perspectives intertwined. Though it again moves away from certain aspects of the novel, to squeeze everything in would have guaranteed longer movies or a third instalment, neither of which would be necessary as everything audiences need from the book is captured in the screenplay. The grown-up Losers are just that, grown-up. They are the perfect adult versions of themselves, written and developed poignantly to reflect their personalities and their pasts that have shaped them, for better or worse. There is one character however who, whether he’s here at this point in the book or not, is rather redundant in this movie. There probably is a deeper meaning to his inclusion at this point, but if it’s not clear then it’s not really necessary. Other than this. the plot generally stays as true as possible to the book, veering off here and there, but certainly to no detriment. In many ways it’s different, but it’s a rare good different.
So, we’ve got the characters and story down, but what about the horror aspect? Muschietti keeps up the jump-scares, which have proven to be very effective, because although you know they’re coming (which is often incredibly off-putting and can arguably be considered lazy filmmaking), you don’t know exactly what it is you’re going to see. Pennywise isn’t a Bogart that’s going to take the form of whatever frightens the Losers the most: he’s going to take the form of whatever frightens them the deepest, relaying that fear in whatever way will paralyse his victims most effectively. It’s a very visual film, not overusing the effects but just to the point where it starts to teeter over into psychological terror. It’s gory and gruesome at times, sometimes unexpectedly so, even paying tribute to John Carpener’s The Thing at times, taking it up a level from the first movie. It’s also expertly counterbalanced with actual laugh-out-loud comedy to ease tension, a technique that stops the movie from taking itself too seriously but also increases our nerves as an audience (it’s quite common for us to giggle or laugh nervously when we’re uncomfortable in any way, and Chapter 2 takes full advantage of that). It’s also emphasising one of the main themes (without giving too much away), being that there’s nothing to fear but fear itself.
This must be one of the most perfectly cast movies in the history of cinema. Not only is each adult lead already a fantastic actor, but the way they’ve each captured physical and verbal traits of their younger counterparts (and then built on them to create their adult versions) is a testament to their commitment to their performances. It would be a waste of time to pick out each actor and evaluate their performance because they are all just as damn good as each other. We see the child versions within them, but also how they’ve grown into adults, changed in some ways but not in others. Even the young actors, back for a few scenes complete with some slight de-aging VFX, are as on their game as the first movie, particularly when it comes to the comedic aspects. What’s also keenly felt between the group of adults and the group of kids is the same chemistry – what we had with the kids during It and into this movie is brought back through the adults, though with a shift in the dynamics of some relationships, as would be realistic. If there is to be a shout out for one particular performance, however, it would be Skarsgård as Pennywise, of course (not even to be outshined by a pretty excellent Stephen King cameo). It feels like he has a little more dialogue in this second instalment, giving us more of that creepy sing-song voice, but it also allows for his infamous facial distortions to play another huge part in the making Pennywise (and the movie as a whole) terrifying. Everything about Pennywise oozes fear, and Skarsgård could not be more perfect in that role.
It Chapter Two is ten minutes off of being three hours long, and if you know how long and dense the novel is, you can appreciate the need for as much time as possible to fit in the necessities (add on It and you’re looking at around five hours all together). But it’s all totally worth it. It’s not often a movie can reach that length without moans of empty bellies, full bladders and numb buttocks, but this one will whisk you away for the full 2 hours and 49 minutes with nary a peep from anyone (other than the odd squeak of fright). If you prefer your horror to have more depth to it (less of a focus on cheap scares and more on niggling right into the psyche, which is arguably more terrifying), then this will be just your tipple. If you’re looking for something that will make you hide behind your hands, you have also come to the right place. There’s something for everyone at this circus of horrors.