IT: CHAPTER TWO **** USA / Canada 2019 Dir: Andy Muschietti. 169 mins
27 years after their initial battle with the ancient interstellar evil most commonly known as Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), the close-knit group of friends showcased as adolescents in IT: CHAPTER ONE reunite in Derry in the wake of fresh horrors. The reunion of Richie (Bill Hader) – a washed up stand-up comedian, Bill (James McAvoy) – a hack screenwriter – and Beverly (Jessica Chastain), still the source of unrequited love, is intercut with related scenes from their childhood, allowing this “adult” half of the theatrical IT saga to bring back the juvenile leads of the hugely popular first chapter.
The longest mainstream horror film in memory, CHAPTER TWO nails the adult casting as successfully as Tommy Lee Wallace’s 1990 mini-series failed. Hader steals it as the wisecracking Richie, fulfilling his destiny as a professional gag teller and now fully realised as that horror movie guy who provides sardonic commentary on the unfolding madness. McAvoy is credible and affecting as a character whose adult success crumbles to expose all those insecurities he thought he’d overcome, and the evolution of the renewed friendships provide the movie with a strong emotional core, while earning its extended, unashamedly sentimental wrap-up. The ensemble character work is juxtaposed with numerous, grotesque FX-dominated set pieces that (with CG embellishments) pay homage to the 1980’s horror FX revolution – even down to a precise remake of a beloved set piece from John Carpenter’s THE THING complete with the original one-liner. A streak of self-referential humour includes cameos from Peter Bogdanovich (essentially as himself) and Stephen King, though it becomes distracting : the first jokey reference to the flawed ending of the original book is amusing, but it gets tired around the seventh time.
If the movie’s intensity is diluted by the humour and its sheer length, it does, at its best, come close to delivering the strongest aspects of the novel. In his most unadorned form and brilliantly played again by Skarsgard, Pennywise remains a formidable figure of fear. The stand-out moments are the quietest: a wonderfully unsettling, blurry shot of the clown on a riverbank from a partially submerged perspective and a creepy hall of mirrors set piece both have impressively nasty payoffs but nail the dread-infused build-up. Beverly’s encounter with a malevolently grinning old woman (largely spoiled by the trailer) and a sobbing, seemingly vulnerable Pennywise’s manipulation of a bullied little girl are two of the strongest scenes in 2019’s horror gallery. Elsewhere, the film captures the comparatively low key personal horrors that King writes so well : a cycle of domestic violence; the awkwardness of going to your local chemist; the mortal fear of cancer; the strain of aggressive homophobia that hasn’t gone away in the 30 years since the book’s release. Perhaps more than anything else, both the book and this film successfully capture the horror of realising that 27 years have passed and you’re still stuck in the town in which you grew up – and still controlled by all the same old demons as before.
Review by Steven West