Before I get into the review properly I want to get something out of the way early – if you’re in the market for scares It Chapter Two delivers. It’s a nerve-rattling, fiendishly frightening, and at times downright terrifying film, that more lives up to the high bar set by it’s predecessor, the franchise delivering one of the most effective one-two punches in modern horror.
Two years ago, my friend Brian and I were traveling through Europe and decided one evening to take a break from bar crawls and statues and check out the new It film. We both loved the Tim Curry original, and were blown away when the new iteration not only met, but surpassed it.
So here we are, two years later, in a Chinese restaurant in Herne Bay, decked out in red balloons. Sat between radio DJ’s and Shortland Street stars we had to do a double-take when offered real scorpions and tarantulas to munch on between courses. It’s a strange way to preview a film, but I guess that’s what you get when you’re following up the most successful horror film of all time.
You’ve got to hand it to director Andy Muschietti. Adapting a Stephen King novel is always a hit-or-miss gig, but the director managed to hit the sweet spot not once but twice, with It Chapter Two managing to surpass its predecessor in a few areas, offering a more sustained cavalcade of ghoulish grue that the first.
Set 27 years after the events of the first film, Chapter Two reunites the Losers Club as they make good on their childhood promise to return to the hellish hamlet of Derry to finish what they started and kill Pennywise for good. Now adults, only Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), has stayed behind in Derry, while the others have moved on – both figuratively and literally.
Wise-cracking Richie (Bill Hader in a career–defining performance) is now a successful comic, Bill (James McAvoy) has gotten over his stutter and forged a career as a successful writer, Bev (Jessica Chastain) is a fashion designer stuck in a horrible marriage, the once-overweight Ben (played by New Zealand’s own Jay Ryan) has hit the gym hard and is now a buff architect, and Eddie (James Ransone) is a risk assessor. Only Stanley (Andy Bean) seems to still be haunted by the ghosts of Derry past.
The actors not only deliver fine interpretations of their roles (Hader has the showiest part, but the whole ensemble is strong, and their camaraderie is palpable), they also match up well in looks and temperament with their younger incarnations, who appear here in both recycled and new scenes. I personally loved Ransone’s dynamic with a scene-stealing Hader, which largely involved Richie’s numerous attempts to rile the tightly-wound Eddie.
Throughout the film the Losers are confronted, as both adults and in flashbacks as kids, by assorted incarnations of Pennywise and, more often, other bizarre manifestations of their deepest fears. Bill Skarsgård continues to bring a mix of vicious glee and corrupted soul to the deadly clown, though he appears less frequently than, and occasionally as, more extravagant monsters generated by the films visual effects departments. While the film does rely heavily on effects for its plentiful jump-scares, it is telling that one of them are as scary as an early scene involving a little girl and Pennywise. I would have liked to see this approach utilised more by
Muschietti and co.
It: Chapter Two’s overarching theme is the way childhood distress carries over and influences, consciously and unconsciously, our adult lives, and the importance of memory. The film elevates itself beyond standard horror-fare by the emotional weight that is generated by the characters coming to terms with old traumas and reconciling with their pasts, and with each other. Credit must go to Muschietti for affording screenwriter Gary Dauberman with the space to develop the characters and the deeper connection that they share beyond shared trauma.
Could Muschietti have found some areas to trim or scenes to cut out altogether? Sure, but there’s an immersive feel with the film’s generous run time (2 hours and 50 minutes) and the pacing that make it too rewarding to cut corners.
The film offers viewers a wonderful visual style, a ratcheting tension and a sense of humor, plus more strong performances than you could count on two hands – send in the clowns!
It: Chapter Two is in New Zealand cinemas now.