IT: Chapter Two – Movie Review – An epically ambitious horror climax.

I remember in 2017 when the credits began rolling on IT, and the words “The end of Chapter One” appeared on screen. I felt a sudden burst of excitement because up until that point, there was no real knowledge of Warner Bros. plans to adapt the other half of the book. I do remember walking out of the cinema afterwards and saying, “there is no way Chapter Two could be better than that”. Of course I was referring to the film I had just watched. IT: Chapter One which I still think is a fantastic film. I have nostalgic memories of watching the 90’s miniseries during my early teens. I’ve also read Stephen King’s iconic novel in which these films are based upon. So it’s safe to say I went into Chapter Two with high hopes.

This instalment grasped me straight away by opening on what was the most memorable moment of the book, for me personally. A homophobic hate crime that occurs a few chapters in, which left a sinister impression on me for the rest of my experience reading that book. Andy Muschietti brings that moment to life in a stone cold visceral nature. It’s brutal, and far more unforgiving than I ever expected that scene to be, when translated to film. This opening scene is easily one of the highlights from either of the films.

From there we learn that Mike (now portrayed by Isaiah Mustafa) has remained in Derry twenty seven years after the events of the first film. Meanwhile the rest of the Losers Club have all progressed with their lives elsewhere. Bill (James McAvoy) is a successful writer, Beverly (Jessica Chastain) is married and Richie (Bill Hader) is a stand up comedian. As for the others, Eddie (James Ransone) is a successful risk assessor, Ben (Jay Ryan) is an architect and Stanley (Andy Bean) is an accountant. When Mike becomes aware of Pennywise’s return, he contacts his old friends so they can meet up to fulfil their blood oath, which was to unite and kill Pennywise if he ever returned.

Rich Delia (the casting director for both films) deserves a tremendous amount of praise. He’s managed to discover the perfect adult counterpart for each member of the Loser’s Club. The entire cast is excellent. The adults manage to mirror the performances of the younger actors to an exceptional degree. It never felt like they were just doing an impression of those characters either. It’s as if they absorbed the most distinct characteristics from the younger actors, and blended that with their performances. This results in them feeling like the characters we grew to love in Chapter One, whilst also having a palpable sense of adulthood, which made them feel like three dimensional individuals who have matured over the past twenty seven years.

The chemistry between the characters still remains despite the change in actors. This is displayed early on during their gathering in a Chinese restaurant. Bill Hader and James Ransone stand out the most in that scene, and they end up being the standouts through out the entire film. They’re both hilarious at times, but what excels their work is the dramatic acting they also display.

The flashback technique is utilised for a number of differing reasons. The main one being so the filmmakers could bring back the younger cast from the first film. Their presence immediately brought back a feeling of warmth and fun. Those actors don’t miss a single beat, and they are just as enjoyable to watch as they were in the last instalment. The way in which most of the flashbacks transition between the present was nicely done. It was a creative and visually appeasing way to connect the two timelines, whilst also replicating the structure of the novel. Due to the rapid growth of those younger actors, visuals effects were used to de-age them and unfortunately it was extremely distracting. I noticed it the most with Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Richie (Finn Wolfhard). Their skin texture was softened so much by the effects that it looked like a bad Instagram filter. I also have a feeling their voices were modulated to sound younger. As that became a bit of a distraction too.

From what I remember Pennywise doesn’t really come into contact with the Adult Loser’s in the novel that often. So this is another aspect where the flashbacks are used to the films benefit, as it’s mainly through those sequences where we get to see Pennywise terrorise them. It’s a smart way of ensuring that Pennywise and his various forms get a plethora of moments to shine. There were a couple key moments from the book that were left out of the first film, but they were able to weave those moments back into this one using the flashbacks.

Despite all that the flashback technique does end up being overused. Where it didn’t work for me, is when it was used to remind the viewer of things that occurred in the previous film. I would’ve preferred if the filmmakers trusted the audience to connect the dots with certain things, instead of inserting a brief moments from the last film to remind them.

Another problem I have, is if I were to view this from the perspective of someone who isn’t already familiar with the story, I don’t think it contains the level of clarity that it ought to. There’s a lot more to the adult characters in the novel. They could’ve worked more of that development into this films near three hour run time, which I must say, flew by. The pacing is sharp, it never dragged and it didn’t feel nowhere near as long as it actually is.

There’s two characters who I felt the script mishandled. The first being Mike, who doesn’t get a massive amount to do outside of being the one to drive the plot forward. We don’t really get any moments through out, that showcase him naturally interacting with the others. It’s only when he is directly speaking about things that impact the narrative. The other character I found underwhelming is Henry Bowers (Teach Grant). The first scene with adult Henry is great, but the subsequent scenes didn’t really work for me. He was ultimately wasted. There was an opportunity to make him a lurking threat similar to Pennywise, which could’ve added more intensity to the characters objectives. In the end he didn’t feel like much of an impending threat, and that’s because the Loser’s Club were barely even aware of him.

Now I’m finally going to speak about the main attraction. Pennywise. Bill Skarsgård is once again incredible as the dancing clown. Whenever he’s on screen he had me transfixed. Everything from his facial expressions to his voice, and even the physicality of the performance is simply excellent. After the first film I said this will go down as one of the most iconic villainous performances in horror, and I firmly stand by that. He has absolutely made the role his own, but because of the nature of It and what it’s capable of, he at times reminded me of Robert Englund’s Freddy Krueger. Especially during a scene in a school hallway, that felt like a minor reference to the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. In fact there are a handful of homages to classic horror films, within Pennywise’s actions and other forms. One in particular emulates an iconic moment from one of Carpenter’s classics. The scene is perfect on it’s own merits, but it also serves as one of the best homages to another film that I’ve seen in quite some time. At times Pennywise is merciless, especially when he comes into contact with children. Like the first film, Muschietti doesn’t shy away from showing him manipulate and devour them. It gets grisly on a number of occasions in a surprising fashion.

I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed because we see plenty of It when he’s in other forms, but we don’t see much of Pennywise through out. Outside of a few scenes I’d say the intensity of the film is down a notch when compared to Chapter One. Both the musical score and sound design is yet again fantastic, but the effectiveness of the thrills can’t quite match the first. There’s a lot of interesting imagery to admire, but it never felt truly frightening.

There’s a lot within the climax of the book that I was hoping to see on screen. I thought Andy & co, would adapt a certain extent of it and leave the rest out, which is ultimately what they did, but I’m still surprised at the amount they managed to accomplish. The last act is insane. It fully commits to the madness of the book, whilst also making some notable changes, that will keep even those familiar with the story guessing. It’s rare for the weirder aspects of a novel like IT, to be translated into a mainstream film with such confidence.

Overall IT: Chapter Two isn’t a strong as the first but it’s close. Whenever it lacks the intensity, it makes up for it with wild visual ambition. This is a horror blockbuster executed on a scale unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the genre, and I doubt we will ever see a horror saga like this again.

★ ★ ★ ★

(4 Stars out of 5)

– T. Graham.

IT: Chapter Two – Starring James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, James Ransone, Jay Ryan, Isaiah Mustafa and Bill Skarsgård.

Directed by Andy Muschietti.

Now showing in cinemas.

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