IT Chapter Two
James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Bill Skarsgard, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Isaiah Mustafa
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Bloody, surreal and at times confounding, It Chapter Two is an ambitious slice of cosmic horror bolstered by strong performances, enthusiastic direction and a fantastic (in all sense of the word) monster.
2017’s adaptation of Stephen King’s It, by director Andy Muschietti, was an enormous box office hit and at the time of writing is the most successful horror movie ever made. Based on King’s gargantuan monster-mashing masterpiece, the wise decision was made to split the novel into two parts (the damn thing is over 1,300 pages) with It telling the tale of the Losers’ Club as kids and It Chapter Two finishing the yarn 27 years later, with our plucky heroes in their 40s.
Translating the adult parts of the book was always going to be tough, as even the most ardent King fan will likely agree that the children’s chapters are more effective. See, the titular beastie at the heart of It is an ancient shape-shifting, cosmic horror that takes on the form of your worst nightmares. So, for kids, it can be a leper, a scary painting come to life, or a zombified relative. However, adults have different fears entirely, and how do you effectively manifest as a grownup, horror like mortgage repayments, prostate exams or indifferent spouses? Muschietti opts to take Chapter Two in a quite different direction, and while it’s not as elegant as the prequel, it’s effective for the most part.
So, 27 years have passed since It aka Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard) was defeated by the youthful Losers’ Club. Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) is the only Loser not to leave the town of Derry, so it’s up to him to contact Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy), Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain), Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan), Richie Tozier (Bill Hader), Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone) and Stanley Uris (Andy Bean), when it becomes clear the beastie is back and up to its old tricks.
Most of the group go to Derry, albeit with much reluctance, and their mystically-wiped memories return and the terror along with it. For much of the film, we’re with the various Losers as they try to piece together their past, and work out a way to defeat It. James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain both nail their respective roles, and have the most effective journeys in terms of both thematic richness and onscreen horror. In terms of nailing the character, however, Bill Hader absolutely owns Richie Tozier, bringing a hilarious, sweary fatalism to Trashmouth’s glib banter and surprising depth in the back half. James Ransone is at times a wonderful Eddie, however he’s saddled with a couple of sequences that are tonally bizarre, feeling like something from a goofy splatter comedy, which makes his arc a little inconsistent. And, of course, hats off to Bill Skarsgard who once again makes a delightfully bent Pennywise/It, dripping with drool and wall-eyed lunacy, and genuinely fascinating to watch.
Storywise, It Chapter Two is a strange beast. Most of King’s cosmic weirdness was left out of the previous film, which gives this chapter a lot more of the expositional heavy lifting. Ancient rituals, cosmic origins and backstory aplenty are explored to varying degrees of success, leading to a final confrontation that’s pleasingly surreal and emotionally resonant.
Whereas It felt like more of a typical modern horror flick – replete with an overreliance on jump scares and VERY LOUD NOISES – this one hews closer to the likes of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, with hallucinatory elements and a premium placed on conquering personal demons as much as the many gibbering, goggling monsters on show.
Muschietti can be a blunt, unsubtle instrument at times and the script by Annabelle scribe Gary Dauberman isn’t exactly overladen with nuance, however there’s an enthusiasm and willingness to swing for the fences that makes It Chapter Two a messier but more ambitious creation.
After a wonky start, It Chapter Two tells an engaging tale that never feels like it drags, despite its supersized runtime. As an adaptation it follows the spirit, if not the letter, of the book more closely than its predecessor and while it’s never quite as crowd-pleasingly charming, it takes a deeper dive into the psyche of its characters. Bloody, surreal and at times confounding, It Chapter Two is an ambitious slice of cosmic horror bolstered by strong performances, enthusiastic direction and a fantastic (in all sense of the word) monster.
Perhaps in another 27 years we’ll get an even more faithful, ten part adaptation through whatever platform we consume media on, but in the meantime this one here? It’s pretty bloody good.