With the 2017 incarnation of It, director Andy Muschietti managed to do something only a select few have accomplished before him – he successfully adapted a Stephen King novel. Now, two years on, the Argentinian filmmaker is hoping lightning will strike twice as he tackles the latter half of King’s epic near-1200-page horror opus with (the appropriately titled) It: Chapter Two.
As the original film shifted the novel’s 1950’s setting to the 1980’s (no doubt in a bid to tap into the nostalgia wave made popular at the time by the fresh release of Netflix’s Stranger Things), Muschietti and screenwriters Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman (the latter the only returning pen for this sequel) crafted a rather unique take on the material in that it focused solely on the lead characters in their youth, creating a film that emotionally resonated with human drama and humour over simplistic horror thrills.
The same approach regarding the material has been adhered to with this sequel, though that certain spark of magic that It evoked doesn’t flicker nearly as bright this time around. As we saw at the end of the first film, the self-dubbed Losers Club – Bill (Jaeden Martell), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Stanley (Wyatt Olef), and Beverly (Sophia Lillis) – made a blood oath to one another that should the evil entity (“It”) return to their cursed town, they’ll reunite in a bid to destroy it once and for all.
The history of the evil clown known as Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard, once again devoting himself entirely to the horrific specifics of the role) was briefly touched upon in the first film, and the timeline of his 27-year strike period brings the now-grown Losers back together following a brutal murder that Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), the only member of the group that stayed in their hometown, links to Pennywise; this murder scene opens the film and is arguably Chapter Two‘s most horrific as it is initially set up as a hate crime, driving home the notion that as terrifying as Pennywise is, the bigotry and brutality that is contained within humans is often much, much worse.
Given the narrative on hand, Chapter Two doesn’t allow us to spend too much singular time with the respective Losers before they are summoned back home, but Dauberman’s script drops just enough for us to decipher their life paths and choices, aided further by the personalities wholly create by their child-selves in the first film. Bill (James McAvoy) has channeled his stern determination and unofficial leadership into driving his own creative narrative as a novelist, one who can’t seem to stick the literal landing of each of his stories; Richie (Bill Hader, undoubtedly the film’s MVP) has unsurprisingly honed his cheeky wit and snark and forged a career as a stand-up comedian; Ben (Jay Ryan) has shred the weight that plagued his childhood and made a name for himself as an architect; Eddie (James Ransone), the owner of a limousine business, is still the paranoid hypochondriac he was as a child; and Beverly (Jessica Chastain), whose surface shines as a successful fashion designer, similarly has been unable to escape the behaviour of her past by marrying a man whose abusive behaviour mimics that of her late father.
As their first meeting together addresses the absence of Stanley (Andy Bean), the seeming amnesiac state they all have in relation to their memories of both their hometown and Pennywise slowly dissipate as the evil clown inches in on their fears once more. Whilst the first film had its share of scare moments (the opening sequence involving Bill’s young brother is still arguably the highlight), few would deem it “scary” per se, and whilst Chapter Two very much follows suit, it attempts a few more fright sequences in place of the character development that dominated much of the original’s running time. A visit to Beverly’s old house (complete with an eery elderly woman as its new tenant), an under-the-bleaches moment for a curious little girl, and a stellar sequence set inside a funhouse all up the terror factor in a hopeful bid to satisfy the horror fans who felt a lacking first time around.
With a running time of nearly 3 hours (it clocks in at around 170 minutes) Chapter Two is clearly in no hurry to rush its plotting along, and though you start to feel the effects towards the eventual climax, everything that appears on screen makes sense as to why it was included. Purists may also be disappointed with certain novel aspects streamlined for the film, though given its excessive running time one can’t help but wonder if a little tinkering could’ve re-inserted some of the moments omitted here.
Coulda, shoulda, woulda aside, Chapter Two is still a worthy successor to a horror outfit that was far more organic than it had any right to be. Much like the child-hungry Pennywise (who, sadly, feels ultimately underused) there’s plenty for King fans to sink their teeth into here, with Muschietti creating an investing, if overindulgent scare piece that, like its predecessor, succeeds on an emotional and comedic level.
About It: Chapter Two
Evil resurfaces in Derry as director Andy Muschietti reunites the Losers Club in a return to where it all began with “IT Chapter Two,” the conclusion to the highest-grossing horror film of all time. Twenty-seven years after the Losers Club defeated Pennywise, he has returned to terrorize the town of Derry once more. Now adults, the Losers have long since gone their separate ways. However, kids are disappearing again, so Mike, the only one of the group to remain in their hometown, calls the others home. Damaged by the experiences of their past, they must each conquer their deepest fears to destroy Pennywise once and for all…putting them directly in the path of the clown that has become deadlier than ever.
It: Chapter Two (MA15+) is screening in Australian theatres from September 5th 2019.