Directed by Andy Muschietti; Written by Gary Dauberman
You ever make good on promises you made 27 years ago? Promises you made as a child when personal connections felt ironclad, love was forever, and summers seemed endless? Me neither.
Yet, that is what is asked of the central cast in It: Chapter Two, the follow up to 2017’s first chapter featuring a group of early teens who band together to take on a murderous clown-spirit terrorizing a small town in Stephen King’s smalltown America. After the encounter, traumatized but resolute, the kids make an oath to return should the monster ever come back, and now, they must make good as a spate of gruesome killings can only mean one thing.
The monster in question, Pennywise the Clown, drew his power from his victims’ most private fears, and now 27 years on, it’s clear those fears did not die along with him, as the reunion brings together a group of ostensibly successful adults who nonetheless are not far removed from the teens they grew out of.
Gone are pimples and round cheeks; in their place, receding hairlines and pallid skin, but the scar tissue remains: Bev (Jessica Chastain), who was victimized by her abusive father has grown into a woman with an abusive partner; Eddie (James Ransone), the nervous conscience of the group is now a neurotic risk analyst; Bill (James McAvoy), still haunted by his brother’s fate, has become a writer who cannot pen a real ending.
Director Muschietti wants each character to confront their demons on their own, and this decision balloons It: Chapter Two to an almost three-hour long runtime. While some escapades are the film’s highpoints, like Bev’s visit to the apartment she grew up in, others just add weight, as it’s only the main-main characters who have enough to work with to carry scenes on their own, and the secondary characters remain reliant on the interpersonal chemistry of the group dynamic to shine.
What about the scary stuff, I hear you say – it’s the point, no? It: Chapter Two has its moments, delivering on special effects both practical and CGI. It’s eerie, terrifying, and gross, both the clown and the creations he conjures, and sometimes the creative crew manage all three in the same short sequence. What’s more, Muschietti still knows how to blend comedy with abject terror, similar to Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell, which understood how heady elation expresses itself just as well in laughter as it does in screams.
In a film with an ensemble cast, it’s perhaps only fitting that the real star of the show is its “invisible” collaborators creating the world around them and bending it to Muschietti’s will.The most disappointing downfall is perhaps inversely related, as Pennywise is less of a force coming out of retirement all these years later. Alexander Skargsård’s iconic performance in the first film, is less so here, and maybe it’s because it’s less of a novelty, maybe it’s because his scenes aren’t satisfyingly constructed this time around, but the fact is he’s more of a sideshow this time around than the main attraction.
Coming back to the central thrust of It: Chapter Two, which seeks to complete thematically what the first chapter started, it reads like an after school special for grown-ups, exploring the pernicious self-sabotaging effects trauma can have on a person and delivering its conclusion with the same grace as an overbearing pedagogue, who leans over, and with a sage, self-satisfied nod says “bullies only have as much power over you as you let them.” It’s not sophisticated.
Yet, this second-parter of course holds hands with its predecessor, and anyone who saw the first and liked it, can safely watch this too and rely on the excellence of the first to lift the general experience. Still, this second chapter doesn’t reach the delirious heights of the first, and only matches it in fits and starts and it all results in an uneven funhouse that features a few great ideas and sluggish stretches for the rest.