VOD film review: IT: Chapter Two
Mark Harrison | On 13, Jan 2020
Director: Andy Muschietti
Cast: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Jay Ryan, James Ransome, Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Skarsgård
“People love your book, but they hate that ending.” IT Chapter One was always going to be a tough act to follow – Andy Muschietti’s 2017 horror film was a genuine phenomenon, capturing the filmgoing public’s imagination and scaling hitherto-unseen box-office heights for an R-rated horror film. Muschietti and most of the IT crowd are back for the sequel, but could Chapter Two ever measure up?
Adapting the back-half of Stephen King’s mammoth novel, the film picks up in 2015, 26 years after Pennywise’s last appearance. Of the original Losers’ Club, only Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) has remained in their hometown of Derry, leaving him to rally Bill (James McAvoy), Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Ben (Jay Ryan), Ritchie (Bill Hader), and Eddie (James Ransome) when the no-good clown resurfaces again.
To paraphrase Whitney Houston, IT Chapter Two’s not right, but it’s OK. The sequel starts promisingly, with a genuinely distressing sequence taken straight from the book, but with a whopping 169-minute running time, it stretches itself wildly over multiple plot strands in its unerring faithfulness to the source material.
This includes certain sequences that fans have been dying to see, ranging from a horrific reunion at a Chinese restaurant to an encounter with a living Paul Bunyan statue, but also the idea that the Losers have lost all memory of their childhood experiences. Despite the neat underlining of the town’s toxic, gaslighting environment in the prologue, the film spends more than an hour separating the adult characters and having them go on separate fetch-quests for a reason that’s impossible to take seriously.
In this regard, Chapter Two commits to being less of a horror film than the first instalment, continuing all the same plot threads but significantly dialling back the scare factor. Chapter One was hardly brisk, but it kept the suspense going nicely, whereas the sequel almost immediately splits up its grown-up characters and leans much too heavily on flashbacks to their childhoods, which feel more like additional material from the previous instalment.
While you’d expect to see this sort of nostalgia from a belated follow-up or legacy-quel, there are an awful lot of callbacks to a film that came out only two years ago, and it does the adult actors no favours. Where the younger actors (who are similarly great in their return appearances) had such amazing chemistry in Chapter One, we can only invest in individual efforts here.
Bill Hader absolutely steals the show. Even though the film leans (often inappropriately) on his comic timing, his take on trash-mouthed Ritchie tests the full range of his dramatic ability too, generating more heartfelt moments than big laughs. Elsewhere, Jessica Chastain makes a great Bev and Jay Ryan plays hunky softie Ben to a tee, but few of the others (especially James McAvoy’s self-centred writer Bill) get much of an opportunity to shine.
There’s no lack of ambition in Muschietti’s approach or Gary Dauberman’s script (although the contrast shows just how much Cary Fukanaga’s long-time development of Chapter One’s screenplay might have helped the finished film) but the epic scope proves something of a stumbling block. Were this a Netflix series, they might have had more success in exploring different subplots, but the faithfulness of the adaptation makes this a more muddled, less focused feature.
What’s especially weird about this reverent approach is that the film winkingly acknowledges how Stephen King’s endings are often unpopular, and then runs headlong into a distinctly unsatisfying CG-filled climax that both updates and lives down to the reputation of the novel’s finale. Furthermore, it makes a bunch of surreal choices of its own (what on Earth is that Angel of the Morning moment?) that don’t get paid off, as if further explanatory scenes were trimmed from an even longer version.
While the impact of many character and elements feels dulled, perhaps it’s the reduced screen-time for Bill Skarsgård that protects his eerie, frightening villain from being similarly diminished. Pennywise remains one of the most readily scary monsters in recent horror movie history, but we don’t see him do much that he didn’t do in Chapter One.
All in all, your enjoyment of IT Chapter Two may very well hinge on how much you enjoy watching a horror sequel taking massive swings and often missing, as opposed to going for reheated softball scares. Even though the film leans upon rhyming with its predecessor, the renewed surrealism and sincerity float it safely above being a mere rehash.