It Chapter Two (2019)
Director: Andy Muschietti
Screenwriters: Gary Dauberman
Starring: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Bill Skarsgård
Two years ago, It took the September box office by storm. The Andy Muschietti directed feature set records for the biggest opening weekend in September, beat out Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) for the biggest horror film opening weekend of all time and trailed only Deadpool for the biggest opening weekend for an R-rated film. In addition, the young cast and Bill Skarsgård were praised by critics and audiences alike.
It Chapter Two begins 27 years after the events of its predecessor. All of the Losers (their term, not mine) are grown up and living their own lives far away from Derry, save Mike Hanlon. Mike has remained in Derry, and after a grisly, horrifying mutilation of a young man, Mike realizes It has come back. He calls the Losers, and despite their fuzzy memories of the era, they return home and reunite to defeat the dreaded monster of their childhoods once and for all.
It’s only natural that the continuation of a classic story would be held to high expectations after its predecessor’s huge success, but any comparisons between Chapter One and Chapter Two are arguably unfair – part one is a traditional story that happens chronologically, reflecting the relative simplicity and ease of childhood, wheras part two becomes more complex because the adult characters have forgotten their trauma, just as we all forget aspects of our youth in adulthood, and the film has to fill in gaps that could have rendered bits of the second act pointless had they been shown earlier in the film. It’s only natural that a picture taking on a tougher burden will suffer slightly with pacing or bloat, but this aspect of Chapter Two‘s structure does seem necessary to hit its particular emotional gut-punch and truly reflect the reason for its existence in the first place.
The pacing issues and bloat do exist, though. There are moments that sometimes feel a little too long, and minor side plots that are not vital to the integrity of the structure. For example, there’s a kid that appears a couple of times that ultimately serves as a sign of the inevitable, unstoppable terror they face. Don’t get me wrong, the kid is good and his scenes are great, but it’s not something that needs to be reinforced to the audience. There’s also serial repetition in acts one and two when the Losers are separated and going through similar events. First Bill has his scene, then Richie, then Eddie, then Bev, etc. and it becomes apparent that there needs to be something to break up the monotony of the form.
There were also issues with the way the film presents the memory loss of each of its central characters. The film shows a few too many moments from the first film with no new perspective, but it would make more sense to not show those to the audience. From the studio’s perspective, it’s important to catch people up on your sequel to grab and hold as many potential viewers as you can, but why cater to the portion of the audience that didn’t see the first film? How much of the viewership does that even make up? There’s no way it’s a significant percentage. For now, I can only imagine a more immersive version where audiences remember along with the Losers (especially for those that didn’t watch part one recently) rather than being forced to sit through the near-entirety of the first film’s blood pact.
No matter the issues with editing and writing (and I do put some of the blame for that on part one, as this is a continuation of that Chase Palmer and Carey Fukunaga written piece), the characters shine through. The casting, direction and performances all came together to create the greatest continuity post-aging I’ve seen on screen. The adults look a lot like their child counterparts, and each do a good job of taking their characters’ personalities and characteristics into adulthood. McAvoy was just the guy for Bill, a character with little range, but a distinctive stutter that requires the right actor to pull off without being offensive or cringeworthy. Chastain, Ryan, Mustafa and Bean each fill their roles well too, with Mustafa standing out despite having the least to do. The greatest performances came from Ransone as Eddie and Hader as Richie, probably because they have the most personality. They brilliantly portray the range of complex emotions their characters feel, and their connection (which is infinitely more interesting than the “love triangle” between Ben, Bev, and Bill) feels truly tangible. It himself, Bill Skarsgård, was so phenomenal that he made Tim Curry’s version of the character seem less like an Eldritchian horror and more like a weirdo at a circus.
Chapter Two’s strongest point, and most useful point as regards its overall enjoyment as a film of its type, is the horror. The horror feels almost non-stop, yet it manages to stay frightening and unexpected even through its most expected scares. I can’t remember a movie that actually made me feel fear and tension the way Chapter Two did, from the visceral horrors of reality to the terrifying constructions of a character’s mind. Part of It’s inherent appeal as a movie villain is the variety of forms it can manifest, and Muschietti and company don’t fail in the creature and body horror aspects of this film’s production, nor do they pass up on the opportunity for slow burn manipulation. You can’t be sure if a person is who they appear to be, and as such you never know what is actually dangerous. Every horror set piece is unique and paced incredibly well, with jump scares that can startle the most vigilant and jaded of horror fans.
It Chapter Two had big shoes to fill, and I think the creators brought the best possible version of their iteration to the table. Could they have reworked things from the beginning? Sure. But that’s a byproduct of film production. Studios don’t hand out movies for fun, and filmmakers don’t create them for free. It would have been better had the films been truly treated as one work rather than two separate ones, but that’s not the reality we live in (and some fan editor will give us a solid supercut, anyway). If you like horror movies for entertaining characters and genuinely scary moments, make sure to catch It Chapter Two. Who knows how long it will be before we get another big studio horror film that is as well-funded and executed.