Review: It Chapter Two is a satisfying fun-house horror movie
In a way, my hazy memory of 2017’s supernatural horror film It helped me to appreciate the themes in Chapter 2. Character names started to pop up in my head before they were spoken. And a brief flashback brought back to mind some of the past events along with the emotions tied to them. As referenced in It Chapter 2, our memory works to hold onto things that are meaningful to us like significant childhood moments. In other instances, traumatic memories are suppressed until a picture, object, sound or even a smell, triggers it bringing back all the old feelings that were once buried. Repressing memories is a mechanism to help people cope and avoid confronting a stressful or painful incidence. It Chapter 2 takes us back to Derry, Maine where the “Losers’ Club” have to confront what they thought they’ve left behind.
Taking place 27 years later, the grown-up members of the Losers’ Club each get a call from Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) to fulfill their oath to come back to Derry because the demonic entity Pennywise has reemerged. Mike never left Derry and he is the only one in the group to clearly remember what happened in their first encounter with IT. Ben doesn’t hesitate coming back as it’s a chance for him to see Beverly again. After meeting at a restaurant where frightening things occur, Richie and Eddie (James Ransone) decide to leave before Pennywise gets the better of them. Beverly reveals that she saw the future and that all of them will die unless they stay together to defeat IT. Mike reveals to Bill, a now successful writer, that he learned an ancient ritual from Native Americans that can destroy IT for good.
I have not read Stephen King’s novel which these films are based on but heard that it is pretty faithful to the source material. What I like about It Chapter 2 is that it’s more than a sequel, it’s the planned 2nd half of the story. The adult version of these characters are a lot like their childhood counterparts. Eddie is still a risk-mitigating hypochondriac. Richie is a stand-up comedian dropping sarcastic one-liners. Adult Beverly is repeating old patterns first caused by her abusive father, something that is clumsily handled in an early scene but the scripts needs some shortcuts in a nearly 3 hour film. The “biggest loser” Ben has lost a lot of weight though he remains kind-hearted. Bill is experiencing writer’s block. He can’t get the ending right to a screenplay adaptation, suggesting that something in his psyche is holding him back.
Incorporating the childhood flashbacks works on a few levels. First, it’s great to see the talented younger cast again. They continue to have strong chemistry that works. It also helps that the character development and emotional groundwork from the first film can be readily carried over into the new adult cast by blending past and present together in some scenes. Most importantly is that It Chapter 2 is about the adult characters overcoming their personal inner demons – the childhood trauma which held them back from attaining their full potential in life. Seeing their younger selves again shows us where they started and how far they need to come. Mike has the least screen time and development. He is the bravest so maybe Pennywise couldn’t use fear to torment him as much as the others.
The grown-up actors match up quite nicely for their roles. A standout is Bill Hader’s comedic delivery as Ritchie. I wonder if he improvised a lot because it looks like the cast reacted with spontaneous laughter to his lines. As Bill, James McAvoy carries a number of emotionally demanding moments in a solid performance. His character’s stuttering sounds very natural. He may have practiced how to do it so well for one of the personalities in Split. Jessica Chastain looks the part of grown-up Beverly. One minor nitpick is that Chastain doesn’t convey the same hopefulness in her eyes compared to the younger actress, then again it could be an acting choice to be a little bit more stern. Jay Ryan ably captures the underdog likability that characterizes Ben. Returning as Pennywise is Bill Skarsgård. He hits the right combination of vocal tone, evil glare and mannerisms in every encounter.
I’m on the same page with the critical reviews that It Chapter 2 isn’t scarier than the first film. And the first film only had a couple of good jump scares for me. Gross and tense moments build up yet comes up short on skillfully crafted horror. I do appreciate that director Andy Muschietti doesn’t usually reveal the scare when you might expect it. Despite the focus on the supernatural horror, there is a missed opportunity to dig even deeper with the psychological horror since the characters are ripe with anxiety and emotional wounds. The freaky effects on Pennywise look pretty cool, especially the distorted faces. I liked some of the humor. However, some attempts at laughs in supposedly tense situations didn’t end up being that funny or scary.
A nearly three hour story about confronting fears and past trauma, It Chapter 2 will likely please many fans of the first film. The supernatural horror elements involve gross, intense and anxious moments albeit not as scary as it could be. Bill Skarsgård is memorable again as the evil clown Pennywise. The adult characters played by James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader and the rest of the grown-up cast are faithful to their younger counterparts and have good chemistry. The humor works better in some instances than others. While not surpassing the first film, It Chapter 2 is entertaining enough and offers a satisfying conclusion. Like the kids in Derry, just about everybody has both good and sour childhood memories. Learning to focus on the positives and living in the moment is one way to move past the bad times that hold us back.