DIR: Andy Muschietti • WRI: Gary Dauberman • DOP: Checco Varese • ED: Jason Ballantine • DES: Paul D. Austerberry • PRO: Roy Lee, Dan Lin, Barbara Muschietti • MUS: Benjamin Wallfisch • CAST: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader
There is nothing quite like reading a Stephen King novel. King is a master of his craft; no one on this planet can inject tension into words like King. The acclaimed author’s books have sold over 350 million copies to date. Without his novels, the world of film would be without classics. It’s easy to forget that masterpieces such as The Shawshank Redemption, Carrie, The Shining, Stand by Me and The Green Mile all stemmed from the pages of King’s novels. Notice anything about those films? They all came before the 21st century. Film adaptations of King’s novels from 2000 onwards were almost entirely missed; hands up if you’ve seen Dreamcatcher or Hearts in Atlantis? Out of nowhere in 2017 It arrived. Not only was the horror a revival; for King’s work on the big screen, but it was one of the finest horrors of the decade. Combining the heart of Stand by Me with a cannibalistic clown was the perfect formula that no one could have predicted. From there, King’s work began to get justice on the big screen; Gerald’s Game, 1922 and Pet Sematary have continued the author’s hot streak. It Chapter Two arrives with a huge task on each shoulder. On one shoulder it’s faced with the task of keeping the reputation of the novel alive. On the other, the film must deliver a worthy sequel to one of the finest coming-of-age films you’ll ever see.
It Chapter Two continues the story of The Losers Club as they deal with the trauma that comes with being terrorised by a sadistic clown (Bill Skarsgård). Whereas most sequels would follow up directly on from the events of the previous films, like the book and TV movie, the second part of the film takes place 27 years later. Over the course of those 27 years, The Losers Club have gone their separate ways. Bill (James McAvoy) is a struggling screenwriter who can’t find the perfect ending for his film a la Stephen King. Beverly (Jessica Chastain) is suffering from emotional and physical abuse from her husband. Richie (Bill Hader) has progressed from making fun of his friends as a kid to making fun of his audience as a stand-up comedian. Ben (Jay Ryan) is a successful businessman who still reminisces about what could have been. Eddie (James Ransone) has taken his irrational fears in his stride by becoming a risk assessor. Stanley (Andy Bean) is the loser who has been affected the most by their childhood trauma. All but one of the losers have moved on with their lives. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) has spent his adulthood investigating the mythology of Pennywise. Following a brutal homophobic attack that finds the victim seeking help from Pennywise, Mike realises that it’s time to get the gang back together to put an end to Pennywise’s reign of terror.
From a horror perspective, there are lots for fans of the genre to take from the film. This is a big-budgeted horror flick that doesn’t shy away from being bloody. Any sequence that involves Pennywise stalking a victim is guaranteed to unleash fear into its audiences. What makes these sequences special is that the build-up to Pennywise’s kills are as terrifying as the actual murders he commits. Bill Skarsgård manages to sell Pennywise’s negotiation methods in a way where you don’t feel that any of the victims are being idiotic. A magnificent funfair sequence allows Skarsgård to run wild with the horrific nature of his character.
With Pennywise, Skarsgård has arguably outdone Tim Curry and created a horror icon who belongs on the top of any best villain lists. A scene that hints at Pennywise’s origin delivers an image that will be embedded in the minds of the audience for weeks to come. Skarsgård deserves plaudits for turning Pennywise into a character who justifies the need to be dealt with for two films. It’s easy to forget that the second part of the original TV special is shambolic. Thanks to Bill Skarsgård, It Chapter Two is a worthy successor to the 2017 film.
It Chapter Two is perfectly cast from top to bottom. It’s hard to think of another sequel that has to replace its entire cast. It’s hard enough for directors to cast characters that fit a role in the first place. When you have to cast actors that must deliver performances that match the flawless performances from the first film, odds are you’re going to end up with a dud of a film. It Chapter Two pulls off an impossible task with ease through its impeccable casting. Every single one of the adult losers feels authentic. While their story may not be as strong as the one their child versions got to star in, each actor delivers the goods. James McAvoy is as reliable as ever as Bill. Even when McAvoy is in a bad movie, looking at you Dark Phoenix and Glass, the Scotsman always delivers the goods. One of the highlights of the film is his relationship with a young child who reminds him of Georgie.
Jessica Chastain as Beverly is unfortunately underused. Instead of investigating the psychology of a woman who has suffered from immense trauma the film opts to throw her into an unnecessary love triangle. When Beverly is given something to do Chastain nails the character. Beverly’s meeting with a suspicious old lady is the scariest scene in a film in recent memory. Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben in It Chapter One was the most sympathetic character in the film. Seeing him dismissed by everyone due to his weight was heartbreaking. Jay Ryan as the adult iteration of Ben certainly feels like the same heart is in him, but the film chooses to ignore his characteristics and focus on his looks. A large portion of the film is wasted by pitting Bill, Beverly, and Ben into an unnecessary love triangle. When there is a killer clown on the loose it’s probably a good idea to put your rivalry on standby.
When scholars look upon genius moments in film history in a thousand years their heads will turn to the direction of It Chapter Two. Casting Bill Hader and James Ransone was a stroke of magic by Andy Muschietti. In the lead up to the release of the film much has been said of Bill Hader’s performance as Richie. It’s a pleasure to say that all the hype surrounding Hader’s performance is more than justified. Hader is electric as Richie. Every joke he delivers lands effortlessly, all the more impressive when you consider just how many of them there are. Casual Hader fans who know him from the likes of Superbad and Trainwreck will be floored by the raw emotion he brings to the film. James Ransone who plays Eddie may not give as dramatic performance as Hader, but it can’t be underplayed how perfect he is as the germaphobe. Ransone’s facial expressions capture every single fear that his character is feeling. Actors often fail to sell the fear their character possess, yet one look into Ransone’s eyes will showcase how terrified his character is. Finn Wolfhard and Jack Dylan Grazer use their minimal screentime to move each of their character arcs forward to the point where the adult actors can make the audience sob in the final act. Wolfhard and Grazer are both proving on a regular basis that they are going to be stars. With any luck they will be as gifted as Bill Hader and James Ransone.
With a runtime that falls just under the three-hour mark, It Chapter Two gives director Andy Muschietti free reign to leave his audience with goosebumps. With only three films under his belt Muschietti is relatively a newcomer to directing. Saying that, he is proving himself to be a future master of his craft. Instead of following the recent trend of over-relying on jumpscares. Muschetti is interested in creating monsters that will haunt the dreams of both young and old. Even though Pennywise is the main monster of the film, there are plenty of other creations that are unnerving. As mentioned earlier a scene involving Beverly meeting an old lady is chilling. This is down to Muschetti installing subtlety into his direction. Not every scare needs to be big and in front of the camera. Sometimes the scariest things are the images you capture in the background. The film falls short is justifying its lengthy runtime. The overuse of flashbacks to the original cast is the film’s biggest flaw. Instead of focusing on what happened after the events of the first film, the flashbacks show sequences that happened during the timeframe of the film but were never mentioned previously. It ends up feeling like deleted scenes from the previous film were installed just to capitalise on the talent of the younger cast. While it’s nice to see them again it feels like filler for the sake of filler.
It Chapter Two is written solely by Gary Dauberman, both Chase Palmer and Cary Joji Fukunaga failed to return. Losing two of the three writers of the first film messes with the flow of the sequel. Dauberman has to create compelling dialogue for a cast that has doubled since the first film. It’s a task too big for anyone and as a result the dialogue of the film doesn’t flow as naturally as the first. Moments of humour where they should never be stick out like a sore thumb. One scene that is meant to be scary installs an odd musical cue that will have the audience thinking of Deadpool 2 instead of what’s on the screen.
It Chapter 2 is a miracle. While it just falls short of the heights of the first film, this sequel manages to spin a record amount of plates in a china shop without breaking anything. To replace your entire cast, terrify your audience and come up with a satisfying ending is miraculous. In a world that is filled with mediocre horror film after mediocre horror film, it’s therapeutic to watch a big-budgeted horror film that takes risks. Andy Muschietti is a name you need to familiarise yourself with quick. This is a director who does not want to follow the norm. In an age where it’s becoming harder and harder to find directors who make every movie their own. Muschietti is here to show the world that horror is a genre that deserves to be respected. No risk is too big for Muschietti. After all he did just manage to make six-hours of compelling content that revolves around an evil clown.
Liam De Brún
16 (see IFCO for details)
It Chapter Two is released 6th September 2019