It Chapter Two is beautifully cathartic and emotionally rewarding. Now, usually that’s not a sentence I would write to associate with a horror film, but it’s surprisingly accurate in summing up the adventure that director Andy Muschietti takes us on.
Whether its Ari Aster’s Hereditary or Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Us, there’s no denying there has been a notable shift within the horror genre, focussing more on the emotional substance and its social and psychological effects than the traditional jump scare motifs. To a certain extent, Muschietti’s take on the Stephen King classic (with all of its richness and minus that controversial sex scene) has done well to align itself in that same company. Given how traumatic Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) can be with his deceptive smiles and evil manifestations, this is a therapeutic journey to conquer fears and defeat the clown. And trust me, as someone who hates that clown ever since Tim Curry donned the suit and make-up in the TV miniseries, its thematic exploration felt necessary.
And that’s where we find ourselves, 27 years later with the Losers Club reforming to keep their ‘blood oath’ promise they made as kids. The entire film is built like an epic blockbuster event that chucks in the kitchen sink equivalence of twists and turns. But like a lot of Stephen King adaptations, its subject matter can be ‘out there’, but beyond the surface layer of scares which It adopts, elevating from the creepy to the horrifyingly graphic (and the occasional Meta references thrown in as a tribute), its focussed exploration is that childhood loss of innocence. The coming of age vibes is strong as the plot transcends into adulthood with all of its negotiated difficulties and life struggles. But it’s genuinely surprising how poignant and reflective It Chapter Two is.
Working best as a back-to-back experience (which I recommend), that wave of unexpected emotion lifts the film. Drawing active parallels with Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House with its visual transitions, its switch between the grown-up adults and their young counterparts is instantaneous. It leaves a celebrated nostalgia on the journey they’ve faced and their growing companionship as friends which you want to revisit. But, you adore the set-up with their older selves, knowing they have to confront and reconcile with the generational trauma of their past. It’s an emotional beat often taken for granted, but as much it takes its time to establish those points, you relish their reconnecting journey, proving once again that they are the heart and soul of this film.
Rightfully, the film deserves high praise with its casting. Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, Andy Bean and James Ransone comfortably match their young counterparts with ease, diminishing any hints of star power, but allows room for depth in their spot-on performances. McAvoy mimics Bill’s panic stutter that gets worse as the film escalates. Chastain brings the confidence that Sophia Lillis had in the first film, but is always within touching distance of Beverly’s vulnerability. James Ransone and Jack Dylan Grazer have a ‘separated at birth’ quality as Eddie. Andy Bean’s Stanley shows the darker side of reality of not being able to overcome your fears. Jay Ryan’s Ben showcases an emotional vulnerability of loneliness. Isaiah’s Mike is confined in Derry, obsessed with the destruction of Pennywise. But if there is a standout, then it belongs to Bill Hader as Richie. His comedic beats soften the tension where it matters, but his dramatic turns re-affirm its heartfelt message and tone of the film.
While it juggles between the seriousness of the plot and its tension-relieving comedy like a dancing Pennywise meme, staying true to form, it always brings it back to the horror and that feeling is palpable throughout. The fear is omnipresent, and just like The Haunting of Hill House, the surroundings will look suspicious and malevolent. The physicality and scale of the film are ‘dialled up to eleven’ where it becomes a Crystal Maze homage for each member to confront their fears. And the fear packs a dreaded and uncomfortable punch, drawing parallels with the cruelties of society and how evil (or its obliviousness towards evil) manifests in Pennywise’s favour, in particular, its brutal and controversial opening scene. Unfortunately, it still relies on some level of predictability and guessable circumstances that momentarily lessens its desired impact. But it’s highly effective in delivering its payoff which may result in you re-evaluating your love of fortune cookies.
Undoubtedly, the film’s biggest complaint will be its bloated runtime. At two hours and forty-nine minutes, it officially makes IT Chapter Two, the longest horror film made. In some quarters, that length might be excessive, and it’s true to a certain extent. It lacks the structured tightness that the first film had in abundance where its contained environment reigned supreme. However, with so much crazy and ancient mysticism to cover (but never to the point where its integrity suffers), Muschietti’s direction maintains an enjoyable pace throughout. It does enough to hold itself together in its poignant moments, but serves the jump scares as well-timed defibrillator shocks to give you that necessary jolt to the system.
It Chapter Two is a faithful and satisfying conclusion we deserve. It was always going to be a challenge to re-capture lightning in a bottle knowing the bases it had to cover. But it embraces all of its craziness (faults and all), and if you’ve come this far and willing to embrace its tonal shifts, the immense fun waiting to be experienced will be worth the wait.