Movie Review - IT: Chapter Two
By Matthew Huntley
October 6, 2019
“It: Chapter One” was a bit of a rarity in the Hollywood horror field because it managed to be just as much about the human condition as it was horrific, suggesting our fears are influenced by our feelings of anxiety, self-confidence, love and friendship. It was shocking and scary but also insightful, funny and touching. The film possessed an unexpected range and balance, stirring us on multiple levels.
With “It: Chapter Two,” returning director Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman, adapting the second half of Stephen King’s novel, once again catch us off guard with regard to the film’s sincerity and somber tone. We might have assumed, just as we did with “Chapter One,” the filmmakers would simply resort to lurid imagery, special effects, and over-the-top action and violence to unnerve us, and they do, but for the most part, they exhibit restraint and the film instead urges us to think deeply about ourselves. It’d rather have us ponder who we are than merely clutch the armrests next to us because we’re scared.
As a storyteller, Muschietti seems to have a vested interest in human fears, and in particular how they’re shaped by memories. He showed this early on in his career with the quiet, effective “Mama” (2013). King’s “It,” therefore, seemed like the prime candidate for Muschietti to explore his fascination even more, because one of the novel’s main themes is that fear and memory are interconnected. It also argues that even though our fears play a big role in who we are, we can ultimately control them, a practice that takes will power, letting others in to help, and ultimately accepting things as they are. This may seem like Psych 101, but how often do we really consider such simple concepts? “It: Chapter Two” asks us to consider them more, while at the same time it delivers some truly exciting and frightening horror fare. Once again, balance is the film’s strongest asset.
Essentially picking up where “Chapter One” left off, the story resumes in September of 1989, when the young adolescent members of the Losers Club in Derry, Maine, a most cursed town, have just defeated Pennywise the Clown (a devilish Bill Skarsgård), the evil entity that was lurking in the town’s sewers, routinely rising to the surface to feed on children. The Losers swear an oath to return to Derry if Pennywise, a.k.a. “It,” ever comes back, since they’re unsure about whether or not their recent efforts destroyed it once and for all.
They didn’t, because 27 years later, which is the amount of time in between Pennywise appearances, the only member of the Losers Club still living in Derry, Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), discovers the child murders are happening again. He immediately begins rounding up the other troops: Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy), the unofficial leader of the pack who’s now a successful author who can’t quite perfect his books’ endings; Richie Tozier (Bill Hader), a touring comedian with a weak stomach; Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan), still a hopeless romantic who’s managed to shed his childhood fat and become a wealthy, buff architect; Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone), a risk analyst forever obsessed with germs and diseases; Stanley Uris (Andy Bean), wise beyond his years but also old beyond his years; and Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain), who still has a tendency to gravitate toward abusive male relationships.
Mike reminds the Losers of their vow to return to Derry, although for each of them, the details of their promise are a bit hazy. That is, until Pennywise starts playing with their minds again and forces them to recall painful memories from their childhood, the remnants of which have, in one way or another, impaired their adult lives, whether that’s being paralyzed creatively; unable to commit to or sustain a healthy relationship; feeling inexplicably sad and guilty; or being ashamed because of who you love. Just as we saw in “Chapter One,” Pennywise works to manifest and exaggerate kids’ fears in order to weaken and eventually feed on them.
Why does Pennywise torment and dismember kids so cruelly? Because that’s what It does I suppose. I have not read King’s novel, but I’d be willing to bet Pennywise’s origin story, which finally gets revealed here but still remains murky, was an aspect of the plot with which Dauberman the most liberties. Perhaps a second viewing is in order for me to fully understand how this insidious demon came to be, why it takes the shape of a clown, and why 27 years is the time in between its feeding cycles.
In any case, as absurd as Pennywise is, and as bloated and overextended as the action-filled climax gets, Muschietti always manages to bring the story back down to Earth and reminds us the point of it is not to flaunt illogical horror and gore but to identify and empathize with these seven tortured souls, each of whom is struggling to make peace with their own existence through forgiveness and self-compassion. At its heart, it’s about wounded people trying to control and love themselves, which is why, amidst all the violence and chaos that happens on-screen, “It” remains so relatable.
Evidence of Muschietti’s more human-centric approach to the material is in the amount of screen time allotted for the characters to pensively recall moments from their past, both together and separately, especially compared to the visceral and outrageous horror elements. The movie is slow, quiet and reserved more than it is sensational, and this method has a more lasting effect on the audience.
Not that “It: Chapter Two” is all serious and no fun. There are plenty of bloody, gruesome, eerie scenes to speak of, which are refreshingly creative and convincing for the genre. There’s no shortage of cracking and hatching sounds; grotesque bodies rotting, crawling and floating through the air; vats of blood filling small spaces; both humans and giant creatures alike with thorny legs trying to stab people; children getting eaten, etc. And believe it or not, these components are all germane to the material at hand and in the spirit of the first film. As exciting and entertaining as they are though, Muschietti doesn’t let them overshadow the characters’ personals struggles, which is what we remember most.
Is “Chapter Two” as good as “Chapter One”? Not quite. For one thing, it’s too long for its own good and editor Jason Ballantine allows too many scenes to linger unnecessarily once they’ve served their purpose either relaying the characters’ emotions or advancing the story. The ending, especially, goes on for about 10 minutes beyond what is required and after a while, many shots and character realizations feel redundant. “Chapter One,” by comparison, was tighter and had a more energetic rhythm throughout.
Another, perhaps inevitable, dilemma is the adult versions of the characters just aren’t as interesting as their child counterparts. Granted, this ties in with the loss of their innocence and their growing older, but I was hoping Muschietti could have found a way to make them just as compelling and, in turn, make us just as enthusiastic about watching them.
Still, to the filmmakers’ defense, our expectations are also greater this time around, which isn’t surprising given how high they set the bar, not to mention they had a lot of ground to cover from King’s 1000-plus page novel. But perhaps they could have made more creative compromises with the source material that would have resulted in an overall leaner, more coherent horror drama. If the first chapter was great, then the second is very good—still gripping on the same number of levels, just not as much, while its heart and intentions remain in the right place.