WARNING: The following review contains spoilers for ‘IT: Chapter Two’. For spoiler-free thoughts on the film, float on over to our initial review here.
Horror’s having a moment. Thanks to changing public tastes and a consistent stream of quality films, the genre has recently become a juggernaut. As the genre continues to grow, maybe something like IT: Chapter Two was its logical next step.
As it turns out, IT: Chapter Two is the first true horror blockbuster. Andy Muschietti’s latest work is so grand in its ambition that my jaw was on the floor by the end. There is no movie in the history of horror that has attempted to tell a story on this scale. Some of it doesn’t work, but most of it does. Because our prior review already recapped the film, I’m going to dive headfirst into the juicy, spoilery bits. Ready? Great.
For as acclaimed an author as Stephen King is, he writes dense work, often involving multiple interweaving storylines with a large cast of characters. “IT” the novel is especially a doozy, with a flashback-heavy structure that bridges the gap between 27 years. The first movie got around this by strictly setting the film in 1989, and its box office receipts and critical acclaim will say the same. I expected the second film to follow its tight-structured lead. I was mistaken.
Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman go for a loose structure of all of the former “Losers Club” getting a call from Mike Hanlon (Isiah Mustafa) about returning to the cursed town of Derry. It takes roughly a fourth of the way through the film for all of them to reunite. Before and after the reunion, we spend every waking minute getting to know these characters.
We learn about Beverly’s abuse by her husband, Eddie’s continuing hypochondria, Stanley’s fear of returning that leads him to his suicide, etc. The script treats nearly every character equally, and the slow-burn to them getting back together in the restaurant at that 1/4th mark is genuinely satisfying. Similarly, the film continues to develop its characters through their own arcs of finding an “artifact” from the past to help defeat “It”.
The movie falls into a rhythm around there – find an artifact, confront manifestation, rinse, repeat – that has been grating on some critics. It can get a little tedious, for sure. But it also allows you to go deep into their characters. Still, it must be said that the film’s mammoth 2.5-hour runtime still ends up leaving some characters feeling shortchanged. Jessica Chastain is trying her best here as a pitch-perfect Beverly Marsh. However, there is no introspection into the cycle of abuse she’s caught in like there was in the first film. Likewise, Mike Hanlon is nothing more than a plot device to get all the Losers together.
Even if some characters get more development than others, the script shares the love equally between most of them. In fact, it feels like many smaller movies coming together to form one giant one. The large runtime and attention to character allow for some wonderful character moments. For example, we have Bill Hader’s Richie Tozier coming to terms with his own homosexuality and feelings for his childhood best friend Eddie. It’s a subtle arc that others might have left on the cutting room floor. But Muschietti chose to focus on it, and that gave the film that little extra sense of the personal.
Now that we’ve talked about Richie’s sexuality, it’s time to address the elephant in the room: the opening scene. Needless to say, I’m conflicted about it. The scene in which several Derry teenagers brutalize two gay men – with Pennywise coming in for the final attack – is incredibly hard to watch. Yes, I know it’s in the book. Yes, I know it is fitting for a film about an extraterrestrial entity that feeds on people to murder people regardless of their sexual orientation. Regardless, it felt deeply, unpleasantly real in a way the rest of the movie’s heightened atmosphere didn’t.
If Muschietti plans on really doing the supercut of the two movies together he’s been speaking of, maybe he could improve the scene’s relevance in the movie. As it stands, it’s a remnant of some of King’s worse eccentricities: bringing in very real, contentious issues into the graphic scenes of his books. Thankfully, some of his wilder eccentricities are also in the movie. In fact, all of them are!
Where IT: Chapter One felt restrained in going full Stephen King bonkers, this movie puts the pedal to the metal. There’s no better example of this than an entire subplot that revolves around Henry Bowers (Teach Grant). In this section, he escapes from a mental institution with the help of “It” to go murder The Losers Club. Only this time, “It” is in the form of his dead friend’s corpse. The subplot crackles with this wickedly demented energy. It’s unpredictable, if a little dumb, but in all the right ways.
Similarly, the scene where Mike Hanlon drugs Bill (James McAvoy) to explain to him the lore of It – coming down from the sky to a gathering of Native Americans – comes so close to throttling over the line of ridiculousness. However, it commits so much to the insanity that it never lost me. Perhaps the thing that rocketed this movie to its gargantuan status for me is the monster itself: It.
Other than just Pennywise (once again an absolute icon brought to life by Bill Skarsgård), “It” takes on so many different forms it’s hard to keep track of. A decaying old woman. A giant lumberjack statue. Its true form of three gigantic balls of “Deadlights”! It’s a revolving door of great creature designs that leads to inventive horror sequence after inventive horror sequence.
Most films are scared to really capitalize on their monsters, leaving them in the shadows for as long as possible. IT: Chapter Two emphatically says “F*** That!”. Even if the scare factor is low, it pulls out all the stops in bringing the Losers into glorious conflict with the monster. Jessica Chastain trying to keep her head above a bathroom stall full of blood is the horror image I never knew I needed. It also gets striking imagery out of Bill’s race against time in a funhouse to save a kid from Pennywise.
By the time It forms into a giant spider-like creature while the Losers chant to try and banish it away, IT: Chapter Two becomes a legitimate epic. It’s messy as hell, but the staggering faith it puts in the genre to tell something this big outweighs it. Horror’s having a moment, and if we keep getting films like this that push the genre to its limits, that moment will last forever.
It: Chapter Two stars James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, and Bill Skarsgård and is now in theaters.