Director: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Skarsgård, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean
Words – Carly Stevenson
Twenty-seven years after the events of It (2017), Pennywise returns to terrorise the people of Derry, Maine. With the exception of Mike Hanlon, the disbanded Losers Club have moved on and forgotten their oath to come home if It returns and finish what they started.
Initially, the grown-up ‘Losers’ are reluctant to fulfil their promise, but after an encounter with Pennywise/It opens up a floodgate of repressed memories, it soon becomes apparent that there is no outrunning the past. They must reunite and face It together, one last time. In order to defeat this shape-shifting entity, they must descend into the subterranean sewers beneath Derry – a sustained metaphor for the unconscious – and perform the Ritual of Chüd. Yes, it is as ludicrous as it sounds, but in the best possible way.
Like many of King’s stories, It is concerned with childhood trauma, and Muschietti’s adaptation adheres closely to this. As adults, the Losers are burdened with feelings of fear, remorse and shame, which It draws sustenance from.
The film opens with an upsetting scene in modern-day Derry, which involves the violent persecution of a gay couple by a group of thugs. The attack culminates with the thugs throwing one of the men over a bridge, where he is killed by It. This sequence introduces a theme that resurfaces later in the plot: Derry is a town frozen in time. As Richie Tozier’s flashback reveals, attitudes towards homosexuality were hostile in 1989 and, clearly, things have not changed much since then. This, the film implies, is why It thrives in Derry: there is more than enough fear to feed on.
With a running time of 169 minutes, It Chapter Two is almost as long as the 1990 TV miniseries, which Muschietti affectionately homages. While the film is never tedious, it is indulgent. Visual effects are deployed liberally at every opportunity and while the continual cutting between past and present offers more opportunity for character development, it noticeably slows down the pace. Non-linear storytelling can be an effective device, but it often works better on the page.
While It Chapter Two lacks the sleekness and simplicity of its coming-of-age predecessor, it is hard not to be impressed by the brilliant casting and the sheer boldness of Muschietti’s take on a cult classic.
The film is essentially one long Ghost Train ride that embodies what Stephen King identified as ‘the Gross-out’ in his hierarchy of scares. In his own words, ‘the Gross-out’ is characterised by ‘the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, […] when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm’.
It is fair to say that It Chapter Two is perhaps more effective as a comedy than a horror film, in that there just as many laughs as there are frights. However, there is something appealing about a film that does not take itself too seriously, even when dealing with serious themes.