Film critic Calum Cooper reviews the highly-anticipated follow-up to 2017’s It, which sees both horror and reunion through messy presentation.
It Chapter Two – ★★☆☆☆
Even before Tim Curry donned the Pennywise persona for the 1990 mini-series, Stephen King’s It was always going to be tough to adapt. As well as being such a colossal story, its ideas and setups are as haunting as they are thematically rich. Andy Muschietti’s second diving into the It narrative struggles to fully do them justice. There’s plenty to admire, but its individual segments are better than its whole.
Following the second half of King’s novel, It Chapter Two takes place 27 years after the first. The losers club have all grown and gone their separate ways. The only one who remains in Derry is Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), who discovers that Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgard), an entity who haunted the losers club as children, has returned. He calls everyone from the losers club, including Bill (James McAvoy), Beverly (Jessica Chastain), and Ritchie (Bill Hader), and summons them back to Derry, where they will all face Pennywise for a second, and hopefully final, time.
It Chapter Two is a film with a lot on its plate – so much in fact that it doesn’t really know what to do with it all. But there are elements of substance to its somewhat messy presentation. A fruitful theme that can be derived is that of past trauma and coming to terms with it. All of the losers club members who have left Derry each return with amnesia, having forgotten Pennywise and his horrors, their memories being hazier the further away they have gotten from Derry. Mike is the only one who remembers clearly, acting as a guide through their past experiences. As such, these characters are forced to confront their dark pasts both directly and suddenly.
One could argue that conquering your fears is a trait of the genre, regardless of age, but because we’re dealing with fairly experienced adults instead of naïve children, the film at times feels more like a trip through an obnoxious carnival hall than journeys of personal growth.
All of the actors work with the material well too. On top of being perfectly cast as aged versions of the actors from the previous film (in spite of some uncomfortable de-aging CGI on the child actors), each one feels committed to the ideas the film seems to inhabit. McAvoy and Chastain both encompass their characters’ shared and individual horrors excellently, as does James Ransone as Eddie, resulting in vulnerable portrayals of broken people. But, much like Finn Wolfhard before him, Bill Hader steals the show as Ritchie. Both very funny, and very sincere, Hader creates maybe the most intricate character of the film. His performance is articulate and layered, achieving tension and even heartbreak.
Unfortunately, the film sacrifices the coming-of-age element that made the first one so distinct. Two of my friends and I were in the pub the other day, and we were discussing how accomplished Stephen King is as a coming-of-age writer. The Body (aka Stand by Me) is a perfect example, and even earlier works like Carrie have that coming-of-age undercurrent. I suppose one could argue that conquering your fears is a trait of the genre, regardless of age, but because we’re dealing with fairly experienced adults instead of naïve children, the film at times feels more like a trip through an obnoxious carnival hall than journeys of personal growth.
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Furthermore, I don’t think the scares or tone are realised enough to support its well-meaning intentions. While its ideas, and at times its atmosphere, are disturbing enough, the film has a tendency to make gags at inappropriate moments. The first film had its fair share of laughs too, and this film does have a few chuckles, but it knew when to put them away so as not to undercut the horror, which this film is sadly guilty of doing. But even if its comedy was as strong as before, the film’s sense of horror is overwhelmed by its desire to make you jump. Jump scares can be effective, but when used constantly in the way this film uses them, you gradually become more annoyed than you do scared. There’s a difference between being startled and being scared.
Its runtime is 165 minutes – almost three hours. I’m not as daunted by three hour films as many, but the length has to be justified, and I don’t feel it is here. I wouldn’t call the film slow, but large sections of it feel very repetitive during the second act. Each character has to find an object that connects them to the past, and sacrifice it in a ritual to destroy Pennywise. While this does add to its conquering the past themes, each character must endure a formulaic journey to find their object. Wander about, find the object, get scared by Pennywise, rise and repeat. They drag the pacing and dull the suspense. Add in a pointless and needlessly graphic opening scene – and no, I don’t care if it’s in the book – and you have a film that feels more bloated than it does scary.
I’m giving It Chapter Two 2 stars, but realistically I’m somewhere between two and three. The more I reflect on it, the more I appreciate isolated moments and the broader concepts it appears to be exploring. But I find myself unable to fully recommend the film, unless for the sake of completion. I find the tone too jumbled, the scares too tame, and the length too long to do so. Then again, I gave the Pet Sematary remake 4 stars, so what do I know?