Director: Andy Muschietti
Writer: Gary Dauberman
Cast: James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Jessica Chastain, Bill Skarsgard, Finn Wolfhard
It’s technically half a story, but It Chapter One is one of my favourite horror films of the modern era. The look, feel and absolutely perfect casting of Andy Muschietti’s 2017 remake really struck a chord with me. Its my favourite adaptation of Stephen King’s novel and there was a nostalgic likeability about the era it was set in that felt just right for me. I guess I wasn’t alone because It Chapter One ended up being the highest grossing horror film of all time.
Set twenty seven years after the events of the original film, the Losers Club reunite in It Chapter Two when Mike Hanlon, the only one of the Losers to remain in Derry, examines a crime scene where a young man has been killed after a homophobic gang attack and determines that Pennywise the Clown has returned.
After putting out the call, one by one, the Losers return and reunite at a local Chinese restaurant. Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain), who was trapped in an abusive marriage but had made a career for herself as a fashion designer in New York. Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy), who still carries feelings of guilt for his younger brother getting killed by Pennywise. Richie Tozier (Bill Hader), the fast-talking neurotic runt of the litter who grew up to be a stand up comic. Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan) who was picked on for being overweight as a kid but has filled out as an adult and is now a successful architect. And Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone), memorable from the original film as the hypochondriac kid with the overbearing mother. Only Stanley Uris doesn’t make the trip, as the other Losers discover that he feared Pennywise so greatly he chose suicide over returning to Derry.
All the Losers have gradually had their memories eroded as they grew up into adulthood and have little recollection of It. It is only when they experience a mass hallucination at the restaurant do they truly remember their oath and recall their battle with Pennywise at the Neibolt House. To stop It, the Losers must perform the Ritual of Chüd, which involves each of the Losers retrieving a valuable personal item from Derry. With each encounter, they run the risk of encountering Pennywise who will once again evoke their worst nightmares to stop them.
It Chapter Two is very heavily interwoven with the events of It Chapter One and although the film makes generous use of flashbacks (a welcome opportunity for the child actors from Chapter One to reprise their roles), I think Chapter Two would be close to unwatchable if you haven’t watched the original first.
The adult casting of the Losers is excellent and not only have they landed a star-studded cast including McAvoy, Hader and Chastain, the lesser know performers are outstanding too. Isiah Mustafa has an uncanny knack for mimicking the mannerisms of young Mike Hanlon and Jay Ryan as Ben has such expressive body language portraying a bullied child who has grown into a handsome young man who still carries his childhood emotional scars.
Of the adult Losers, I think Bill Hader is a highlight as Richie. Hader is best known for his comedic chops on Saturday Night Live but he has shown his flair for drama with the tv series Barry. Here, he threatens to steal the show with his performance, particularly during the unexpectedly moving final act. As with the original film, Bill Skarsgard is also memorable as Pennywise. A recent interview on a late night show drew my attention to the fact that a lot of his iconic mannerisms (the slack jaw, the lazy eye) aren’t visual effects but Skarsgard himself performing through all those layers of make up. Like Andy Serkis before him, I wonder if he will forge a career for himself as some of Hollywood’s other famous movie monsters.
Although ostensibly a horror, I think It Chapter Two isn’t a particularly scary film. Not as scary as the original and not compared to other horror films in the market today. But I don’t necessarily see that as a short-coming. As each of the Losers has their own encounter with Pennywise when they go looking for their personal items, they each revisit some type of childhood trauma. A lot of these aren’t the type that are particularly suited to jump-scares to frighten the audience but they are interesting insights into the psyche of the characters and also a lot of the nightmares facing the Losers are universal concepts that the audience can relate to (relationships with parents, highschool crushes, understanding your sexuality etc). The second act of both Chapter One and Two, which both explore this facet of the characters are actually a big part of why I love these films so much.
It’s worth noting that It Chapter Two is one of the longest mainstream horror films ever created, clocking in at an eyebrow-raising 170 minutes. I understand that for those that aren’t as enamoured with It as much as I am, this is actually a pretty big knock against the film. When it comes to horror, usually shorter and sharper is better. For me personally, I was completely comfortable with the running time as I enjoyed the company of the characters so much (I have a similar feeling about the Extended Editions of Lord of the Rings) and where some people saw bloat or plot misdirection, I saw more opportunities to learn about the town of Derry and the people who inhabit it. It Chapter One and Two can basically be duct-taped together as a single five hour long production and I think when viewed that way, it is a generous and faithful adaptation of Stephen King’s novel which clocks in at over one thousand pages.
It Chapter Two will probably go down as one of my favourite films of the year but this is a film that I’m cautious about giving a whole-hearted recommendation to everyone. If you haven’t seen the original or aren’t particularly fussed about horror films, I think It will feel overly long and possibly even boring. But for fans of Stephen King and those who loved the original, It Chapter Two successfully completes one of the most ambitious and successful cinematic projects bringing King’s works to the silver screen. Those fans will absolutely love it.