Soon to be followed by It Chapter 3: Parabellum.
2017’s It was a strange beast. As a horror it was fairly average, delivering some genre goods, few of which were above the common jump-scare, and an instant new icon from Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise the Dancing Clown. But where It’s strength really lay was in its identity as a coming-of-age story, and indeed being one of the best in years. Though tonally iffy as a result, its charismatic cast of youngsters proved themselves more than capable of holding the film together with nary a grown-up in sight, winning hearts over across the globe. It Chapter One was an interesting beast. A sheep in wolf’s clothing. And it’s a relief to report that Chapter Two is also more than its horror-moniker, and boasting just as much heart as its predecessor.
Twenty-seven years after the Loser’s Club royally kicked his arse, Pennywise (Skarsgård) returns from hibernation to wreak havoc on the town of Derry once again, prompting Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) to reunite the group to try and stop him once again.
It Chapter Two starts off as a right vile little film. Immediately following the film’s “previously on” segment, we are subjected to a horrific homophobic attack on a young couple from the denizens of Derry, and then to the return of everyone’s favourite dancing clown. While not quite packing the emotional punch of Georgie’s demise from Chapter One, Chapter Two’s opening is one helluva gut punch, immediately establishing itself as a much more grow-up affair than before. Grimmer, creepier, more batshit crazy, but also strangely cheerier.
Yes, despite its darker tone, Chapter 2 never loses its heart or warmth for the now grown-up losers, each getting their own little introduction back into the fore. Bill’s a successful screenwriter, Bev is a successful architect (albeit sadly still suffering a degree of abuse), Richie is a successful stand-up comedian, while Dan is a successful risk assessor. Everyone is (mostly) doing fine, seemingly moved on from the trauma of the previous film before Mike drags them down to face that trauma’s return. And that is where It Chapter Two holds its greatest strength. As an allegory to the horrific effects of PTSD, the film is a masterclass, as each character regresses into their childhood mindset upon the mention of It’s return. The characters are triggered, and not in the mockery-laden term we may now associate with the word, and how they cope with facing the horror of their childhoods once again tests them in ways it is astounding to watch onscreen.
Despite its near three-hour run-time, the film breezes by. Yes, some bits may feel repetitive at times, each of the grown-up Loser’s encounters with Pennywise come to mind, but it never feels like a slog. It is to director Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman’s credit that instead of feeling trapped with these sad buggers, it feels like visiting old friends, a feeling reinforced by the odd, Trainspotting 2-esque, flashback to the younger cast.
As before, the film’s cast are unanimously brilliant. Each adult is so perfectly akin to their younger counterparts it’s unsettling. James McAvoy’s Bill has the most emotional stake in the story, and McAvoy sells it perfectly, nailing the stutter, and near tear-jerking as he begs Pennywise to let one child go. James Ransone is a near dead-ringer for the very hypochondriac Eddie. The mannerisms, the fast-talking, the puppy-dog eyes, they all fit perfectly. Bill Hader, meanwhile, just about steals the show as Richie, just as Finn Wolfhard did before him. Richie may be a wisecracking comedian, but Hader’s performance shows there’s more to him than quips and one-liners. At times heartbreaking, but most times hilarious, he comes dead close to being the standout player. Jessica Chastain and Jay Ryan do well as Bev and Ben, but with Ransone and Hader in the cast, it’s hard for even them to match up.
And then there’s everyone’s favourite killer clown. Skarsgård deserves every bit of praise he gets for portraying this nightmare role. Pennywise is childish and frightening, playful yet horrifying. Skarsgård dials up Pennywise’s creepiness to new levels, with the film now taking advantage of atmosphere as opposed to jumpscares, and Pennywise benefits immensely for it. But Pennywise, while exquisitely scary, simply doesn’t feel all there. An underwritten character can be terrifying, especially if they are a shape-shifting inter-dimensional clown that eats children. Lack of motive means lack of reason for the actions inflicted, and if done right, can disturb immensely. But in the case of Pennywise, it’s difficult not to feel that he’s a little hollow when it comes to his character. He’s a big clown and he eats people. However, while lacking the effortless charisma and fun nature of Tim Curry’s take (which effectively made him that little bit more haunting), Skarsgård’s Pennywise remains a masterclass of villainy. A performance for the ages, distorted in the best possible way.
But just as It Chapter One had some faults, so too does Chapter 2. Muschietti’s directorial choices largely fit the bill, but not always. One creative decision to include “Angel of the Morning” during what seems to be a defining development for a certain character feels incredibly tone deaf. At first you’ll laugh, but then you’ll realise the film just tried to make itself a meme. It doesn’t top the strangeness of a New Kids On The Block poster jump-cut, but it comes close. And while a scene involving McAvoy, Pennywise and a child in a house of mirrors is indeed tense, the way it is framed also makes it pretty damned funny.
But that’s also the point for most of these sequences. Pennywise is a clown, after all. Not funny to us, but it’s all funny to him. It’s only natural a bit of a laugh should seep out into the audience during times like these.
It Chapter 2 is a downright lovely film, but also a right horrible one as well. It will warm the heart, but also stop it. It will scare your socks off, but make your feet feel warm as well. Bigger, better, scarier, and more downright ridiculous. Oh yes, It floats, Georgie.