Looking back to 2017, it’s hard to see why things went so awry for this sequel so quickly. I say this with such blunt curtness because it’s hard for me to fully grapple how any of this happened. This is a film that by all measurements should have been an absolute knockout hit – with its fantastic casting and stellar setup from the first film – but for reasons only known by the gods of cinema, IT Chapter Two quite conclusively comes up short.
IT Chapter Two continues the story of the film IT (2017) following adult counterparts of the child characters we met in the first film. In this followup Bill (James McAvoy), Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Richie (Bill Hader), Ben (Jay Ryan), Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), Eddie (James Ransone), and Stanley (Andy Bean) must all reunite and once again face the killer clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) that has resurfaced in their home town of Derry. IT Chapter Two intends to take audiences on a stroll down memory lane and convince us of the bonkers plan that the characters must partake in order to defeat Pennywise. The plan? Lure this clown into the sewer and perform a ritual, but in order to do so, they must each face Pennywise alone in their own ways. If it sounds completely convoluted and forced, well, that’s because it is. IT Chapter Two has no problem with abandoning logic in order to set up a scare, it so unabashedly doesn’t care, it’s almost endearing, almost.
IT (2017) took us on a carnival ride of twisted scares and wacky humor – dragging audiences through a seemingly endless barrage of horror sequences more varied than the next. One would think this follow-up would be equally as crazy and in terms of inventive scares and for the most part, it is. But it’s lacking, like a soup missing that extra something to bring out all the flavors. The predecessor IT (2017) preferred to build up Pennywise in a slow drawn-out manner – like a clown slowly sculpting a balloon animal; IT Chapter Two prefers to pop it right in your face, immediately, over and over again. Now, this excessive intensity could have easily been the downfall of this film, but it was necessary to prevent it from dragging, especially when you recognize this films crazy long runtime of 169 minutes.
The humor of this film was perhaps it’s greatest asset, aside from its scares – Bill Hader produces a likable comedic relief character, timing his comedy in such a way that feels like it isn’t forcing you to listen at gunpoint. James Ransone too provided great visual comedy, he and Bill Hader were perhaps the only characters that felt well-executed in representing their child counterparts. James MacAvoy’s performance felt rushed and sloppy – his stuttering made you feel guilty for getting agitated at it – but worst of all, his character felt like a discarded personality from Split (2016) that was begging to be put down. Jessica Chastain, while fine in her performance, lacked the overall quirkiness and mystique that her cigarette-smoking former self had – in many ways the character of Beverly is the most richly complicated of them all, unfortunately, you can’t feel any of that from Chastain. Many of the other cast felt muted and purely like different characters entirely, until we get to Pennywise by Bill Skarsgård. Bill produces yet another terrifying portrayal of the demented clown – from his rolling off-kilter eye, to his drooling and unsettling lips – Bill lives and breathes Pennywise when the makeup and costume is applied.
Unlike its novel IT Chapter Two executes its horror style with more precision as it conjures up some convincing scares even if the film uses the typical horror cliches. For a movie with a $60-70 million budget, the CGI works for this film allowing one to become more invested in its scarier sequences. However, lengthy strobe effects and an extremely loud soundscape deter immersion and embrace sensory overload which becomes exhausting after its 169-minute long runtime.
Throughout the entirety of IT Chapter Two, it never truly establishes a sense of place as it often feels like the characters are just going place to place without any cohesion. The set-design quality is admirable as the film takes the audience through a variety of places that have had extensive effort put into them. The score doesn’t do much for the film as it often blends into the background but its sound design packs a punch. It falls to typical horror cliches which come across as lazily designed scares for the audience as you get a sense of when the scares are coming, however, when it hits, it really hits.
Much of what made this films lengthy runtime acceptable was in the execution of its comedy and horror. There are genuinely fun scares in this film, even if they are jumpy – it’s also endlessly entertaining to witness Bill Skarsgård do his thing as Pennywise. Director Andy Mushietti does an admirable job in concluding the story, there’s scares, there’s laughs, and the story is decent enough, even if it could’ve been executed better. IT Chapter Two finds a path of safety through its timed comedy and inventive scares, even if its aged characters struggled to compare to their child counterparts.