Twenty-seven years have passed since the Losers' Club stopped Pennywise's killing streak. They've grown up and moved on, spreading out across the
Greater Toronto Area United States. When the slaughter begins again, they return to Port Hope, Ontario Derry, Maine, hoping to permanently end the life of the murderous clown from beyond.
It Chapter Two, the sequel to the 2017 adaptation of part of Stephen King's notorious horror tome, It, has much to recommend it, but the fact that I spent a measurable amount of its two hours and 49 minutes trying to identify locations tells you something.1
The source novel contains material that simply doesn't work in a movie: the deep, detailed history of the town and It's2 relationship to that community, and the fragmented time-structure. The first film showed us the childhood segments, updated to the late 1980s. With its charming cast of child actors and blend of horror and humour, It aka It Chapter One and It: The Losers' Club made for a fine Halloween film. It's no masterpiece, but I enjoyed it in a fairground funhouse sort of way, perhaps even more so the second time through.
It Chapter Two captures some of its predecessor's spirit. It begins with a horrifying crime, taken from King's source novel and real-world headlines. The scene has been staged and played effectively. You know how it will end, even if you haven't read the book, but you can't help hoping things will turn out differently. They don't.
The carnival has arrived in Derry, and something wicked this way comes.
We then catch up, briefly, with the members of the Losers' Club, before they return, reluctantly, in accordance with a vow they barely recall taking. People who leave Derry mysteriously forget its horrors. The best scenes, as they get reacquainted with their pasts, work. Bev's (Jessica Chastain) return to her childhood home grows increasingly creepy and suspenseful, due to some brilliant, suggestive staging and a disturbing performance by veteran actor Joan Gregson. When the special effects go full-frontal it gives a scare, but one that doesn't compare to what we've been feeling up to that point. Let's face it: suggestion in a story has always affected us more powerfully than special effects, and has grown more important, as we become desensitized to CGI shenanigans.3
In another, lower-key scene, Bill (James McAvoy) encounters a creepy salesman played by Stephen King. The bit represents the author's best cameo to date. Both of these scenes set the right tone. Chastain and Gregson give us suspenseful horror, with appropriate touches of uncomfortable humour. McAvoy and King give us light humour, with an undercurrent of horror. If the whole movie had maintained this level of control, It might have been the seasonal success it hoped to be.
Despite a strong cast, production values, and an abundance of visual effects, It falls short.
While the film focuses on the adults' return to Derry, it features flashbacks to childhood, and these underscore the problems with the second film. The adult actors are fine, but the flashbacks to childhood show them up. These kids have real chemistry, even in story fragments. The first film made us care about the characters. This one relies on our memories and revisitings with the children to make us feel for their grown selves. Taken on its own, this doesn't work. A film as long as this one should have given us more intrinsic reasons to connect with these people. We see Bev's abusive husband-- and then he's left behind forever. We get a sense of how personal demons have shaped these people over the years, but only a vague sense. The film also reintroduces Henry Bowers (Teach Grant and Nicholas Hamilton)-- and almost entirely wastes him. Given his limited role in the first film (compared with the novel), he could have been eliminated entirely with little effect on this version of the story.
If It wasn't going to be a mini-series (though I'm certain that will happen), they needed to cut something.
The strong scenes appear in a meandering movie that runs an hour too long. While it follows its predecessor in combining horror and humour, it often does so in a tonally incoherent way, wrecking mood with, for example, an ill-placed gag reference to The Shining.
The subject matter also works better with younger and more innocent characters. Kids running around a small town fighting a supernatural monster connected to their personal demons seems compelling. Adults doing the same can get silly, and, as a side note, I'm not certain how Bill managed to avoid being arrested in the course of this film. In addition, the separation of the childhood and adult plots, while cinematically necessary, robs the story of its complexity and makes this film, already an adaptation of material that has been adapted previously, play like an R-rated repeat of Part One.
Of course, any movie of It must deal with the shadow of Tim Curry.
Curry played the titular monster in the 1990 TV adaptation. I will repeat what I wrote two years ago. The people who recall that version as some kind of horror classic quite probably haven't watched It lately, and are recalling mainly Curry's stunning turn as Pennywise. To the degree that demonic killer clowns can have nuance, he has nuance. Curry's Pennywise could almost pass as a real clown, and that makes him terrifying. Bill Skarsgård's incarnation is clearly a monster at all times. He's a great actor, but the script and depiction leave little room for subtlety. He does, however, give Pennywise a strong send-off. For a cosmic horror who has survived millennia, Pennywise really doesn't get out much. The shockingly limited range of It's influence suggest It most resembles its most mundane sobriquet, Bob Gray.
It has been imprisoned, in effect, for longer than we can imagine. No wonder It hates everyone. No wonder It claims to be lonely.
It Chapter Two has been well-made, from a technical standpoint, and it includes a few great moments. It lacks, alas the Trick-or-Treat punch of the first part.
Directed by Andy Muschietti
Written by Gary Dauberman, from the novel by Stephen King.
James McAvoy and Jaeden Lieberher as Bill Denbrough
Jessica Chastain and Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh
Jay Ryan and Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben Hanscom
Bill Hader and Finn Wolfhard as Richie Tozier
Isaiah Mustafa and Chosen Jacobs as Mike Hanlon
James Ransone and Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie Kaspbrak
Wyatt Oleff and Andy Bean as Stanley Uris
Bill Skarsgård and a chüd-load of CGI as Pennywise
Teach Grant and Nicholas Hamilton as Henry Bowers
Xavier Dolan as Adrian Mellon
Taylor Frey as Don Hagarty
Stephen Bogaert as Alvin Marsh
Molly Atkinson as Myra / Sonia Kaspbrak
Joan Gregson as Mrs. Kersh
Luke Roessler as Dean
Javier Bodet as Hobo/Witch
Jackson Robert Scott as Georgie Denbrough
Stephen Bogaert as Marsh
Jake Sim as Belch Huggins
Will Beinbrink as Tom
Jess Weixler as Audra Phillips
Martha Girvin as Patty
Ryan Kiera Armstrong as Victoria Fuller
Peter George Commanda as shaman
Peter Bogdanovich as himself
Stephen King as antique store proprietor
1. By the way, does anyone know where they shot the marina scene at the end? It looks like so many locales in the Great Lakes Basin, and I couldn't place it.
2. The one time "It's" actually a possessive.
3. I've heard some complaints about the digital de-aging of the child performers to make them better resemble their two-years-younger selves. I thought it worked, and honestly did not notice that anything seemed awry.