Director: Andy Muschietti
Writers: Gary Dauberman (screenplay), Stephen King (based on the novel by)
Composer: Benjamin Wallfisch
Starring: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Bill Skarsgård
It Chapter Two is one of the most anticipated horror films of the year, particularly since the first half, It (2017), was received extremely well. Yet that anticipation comes with a healthy dose of worry. The previous film adapted the easier parts of the book, leaving this one to do a considerable amount of heavy lifting.
There are a number of potential pitfalls. King’s novel descends into cosmic horror, a type of terror that is notorious for being horrible to adapt to film. This does beg the question as to how close this movie will stay to the text, as drifting away from the source material or sticking too close can spell disaster either way.
Then there’s the fact that the adult portion of the book is fairly inactive, with most of the action occurring in flashback. Will this film have enough to physically do? And as seen with the telemovie, will it be as scary, as Pennywise doesn’t seem as intimidating when he’s outnumbered by a group of adults? Expectations are running high for this film, as everyone is keen to see this–the 62nd Stephen King movie adaptation–succeed, earning a spot alongside The Shawshank Redemption and not Maximum Overdrive.
Violence/Scary Images: This is a horror film, where the plot and special effects are intentionally trying to elicit a fearful or disgusted reaction from the audience. The following descriptions of such scenes may be considered spoilers. An evil force (which can take multiple scary forms) lures in both adults and children with the aim to devour them. There are several grotesque human forms–zombies, naked old ladies with festering sores, people on fire, lepers, with elongated tongues, warped heads, or otherwise disfigured. Pennywise, the main villain, is a terrifying clown, that shape shifts or otherwise alters his appearance to something more gruesome, through mutilating himself or contorting his movements. He has sharp teeth in a large mouth, which can rip off limbs or cause people to disappear in an explosion of blood.
One character slits their wrists and commits suicide. There are several stabbings or scenes where a character is about to be crushed by a giant creature. A psychopath terrorizes numerous people with a knife. A gay couple is viciously assaulted as part of a hate crime. There are several instances where a character almost drowns in water, blood (this movie is said to feature the most amount of blood ever used in a horror film), or through being buried alive. A character is drenched in black vomit. One scene features a giant arachnid-type creature with supernatural powers that can reduce people to a catatonic state. There are many monsters of gross things–moving eyeballs, severed heads with spider legs, disembodied flying bat wings, walking disembodied body parts, and a cute widdle fluffy Pomeranian.
Language/Crude Humor: Frequent use of strong expletives, such as the F-bomb, S-word, and God’s name is used in vain. A few derogatory remarks about overweight people, jokes about sleeping with a person’s mother, masturbation, and other gutter humor. There are also a lot of slurs against homosexuals, witnessed in the scenes where they are bashed or otherwise persecuted for their orientation.
Drug/Alcohol References: Adults are seen drinking alcohol socially, getting tipsy, or otherwise drinking in order to cope with their stressful circumstances. One character smokes cigarettes–they are portrayed smoking underage. One character’s drink is spiked, where they start to hallucinate. The drug is described as a traditional root, and is linked to a fictional Native American ritual.
Sexual Content: A naked old woman is seen, though her body is exaggerated and intentionally grotesque; she is not portrayed in a sexual nature. Preadolescent children share a kiss. Adults are also seen kissing–some of them are married to other people, while there is also a homosexual couple portrayed as well. It is hinted that a boy has a crush on another boy. A woman is beaten by her abusive husband. There are several scenes that suggest a girl is stuck in an abusive relationship with her father (she is seen as emotionally distraught, scared and defeated while her father barks commands at her).
Spiritual Content: A boy of Jewish heritage is seen giving a speech at his bar mitzvah. A fictional Native American ritual is central to the plot.
Other Negative Content: The scenes featuring the manipulation and predation of children might be distressing for some viewers.
Positive Content: This movie is all about childhood trauma, and the strength it takes to confront those fears head on. A coming of age story, it narrows in on the power of friendship, love, and the importance of holding onto the good moments of life. There are also overtones of the necessity to defeat evil, no matter the cost.
It Chapter Two is an impressive mass of interwoven timelines and characters that manages to succeed even though it’s more bloated than one of Pennywise’s waterlogged half-eaten corpses. Considering the popularity of the first film and the book itself, along with the fondness towards the telemovie, it’s safe to say that this second half had bigger shoes to fill than Sideshow Bob. Sadly, there are a few missteps, though the film does find firm footing, as opposed to sliding down into the sewer of failed horror movies, which is unfortunately where the majority of stories in this genre reside.
With a film such as this, it’s important to start strong, and It Chapter Two begins with its most brutally tragic scene. Adapting one of the more controversial deaths in the book, it’s actually a piece that has aged magnificently and fits right into today’s socio-political atmosphere. It contains a heartbreaking sense of dread because it’s relevant and rings horribly true. Its inclusion makes a statement. While the Scream franchise only jokes about who is allowed to be killed, It Chapter Two not only shows that there are no boundaries and that Pennywise is still something to be feared in adulthood, but also the film is willing to take on some of the book’s darker themes.
At least, that’s what the beginning promised. What follows is a more light-hearted, glossy concoction of scares.
It Chapter Two is the Avengers: Endgame of the horror world. Time is spent catching up with the entire main cast, then there’s a massive exposition dump, followed by a MacGuffin quest for each of the characters. There’s so much that the movie has to cover.
In many ways this is a clever adaptation of the events in the book. Flashbacks are used which serve multiple purposes: it draws a closer connection to the first film; it brings in the wonderful warmth of the popular child cast; and it provides an excuse to litter scares along the way. Yet as the film traverses from one crazy set piece to another, like Endgame, it does develop a tediousness to how the story rhythmically unfolds. So while there is a lot that works, there are niggling sections that don’t.
It’s a contradiction of a film. This is one of the most action-packed horror movies ever made, yet it still feels a bit on the light side. It spends just enough time on each character, injecting a wild ride of a scare before scuttling off to the next one, though it never stops long enough to really enjoy the moment. Some scenes feel devoid of anticipation and suspense as a result, becoming predictable despite an unpredictable villain. It doesn’t help that most of the scares occur within the flashback sequences, therefore there are no stakes.
Fear is subjective and unique to each individual, though a quick Internet search reveals that many don’t find this film to be particularly scary. As fans have worried, part of it has to do with the fact that the shift in perspective from children to adults hinders the characters’ level of vulnerability, and in turn, the audience’s empathetic level of fear. The opening scene is exciting because it displays a mature complexity of terror; a blending of pessimistic reality and nightmare fuel. Yet the darker themes soon make way for childish scares presented in an almost cartoonish fashion (no thanks to the CGI lacking textures and shading).
It’s difficult to discern how much of this is intentional, given the idea of Pennywise being a childishly innocent character is a valid interpretation of King’s work. With maturity, surface level fears of icky creatures and scary monsters fade away, replaced with existential dread and concepts too intangible to film.
The movie touches on this, yet simultaneously doesn’t. Once again Mike Hanlon’s backstory and generational history is completely sidelined, which could have added a deeper, darker layer of fear, as it’s not as fantasy-based as the others. Yet this is an odd criticism to make considering the film’s already massive runtime and ambitious plot.
At the same time, the film does play and acknowledge the outlandishness of its own narrative. There’s a beautiful moment in the first film where it’s hinted that Beverly is the strongest one because the horror she faces every day due to the abuse she endures is nothing compared to the critters that Pennywise conjures up. There’s a darkly elegant truth to it. That same concept is reflected by all the adult characters in the second part, as they seek to confront their childhood trauma, slowly mining the depths of their deepest fears and coming to realize that it’s shallower than they remembered.
Indeed, it’s refreshing to see these adults act like… adults! This time when they face Pennywise, there’s a moment of rationalization as they stand and weigh up their options. They give the impression that they’re no longer necessarily scared of It’s forms, but rather they’re flinching simply because the fear of being chased and devoured is so ingrained. Better yet, the film doesn’t skirt around the idea of simply just leaving Derry, which is certainly a privilege that comes with adulthood, nor does the introduction of cell phones in a modern day world completely destroy the premise, unlike many other horror films that have to specifically write them out. Aside from a few emotionally impulsive decisions, these characters and their actions are well within the realms of believability.
Dauberman’s script instinctually understands that the scare factor is lessened when numerous adults face off against one villain, so he directly confronts the problem by shifting genre. It Chapter Two contains a number of genuine laughs. There’s a lot of fun to be had as the adult characters stand and comment of the absurdity that unfolds before them. They serve as the voice of the audience. Pennywise never develops the same wisecracking nature as seen in Tim Curry’s version, though Richie and Eddie certainly make up for it. There are also a number of Easter eggs to enjoy, though sometimes they’re more of a distraction as opposed to an entertaining treat.
Speaking of the cast, you’d be hard pressed to find a better-suited bunch of actors. They all were perfectly cast and played their roles magnificently. It’s easy to believe that those children grew up into their adult counterparts. Some character arcs are more intriguing than others–Richie is the scene-stealer this time around (if you don’t count the Pomeranian). Though while the film only has enough time for the bare minimum of character development for such an epic odyssey, it does evoke enough pathos when it’s required.
Dauberman and Muschietti have created a clever adaptation. The film alters a few ideas and scraps a couple of side plots, but ultimately it keeps the spirit of the book, which will be sure to please fans. It stays so true that it’s hard to point out the film’s flaws without also attacking the source material. Stephen King created It simply because he wanted a being that would give him an excuse to write about multiple classic horror monsters like werewolves, mummies, and giant birds all in the one narrative. The silliness shows, which is what forced Dauberman to nicely counteract with comedy.
As wonderful as it is to read a multi-layered text with several timelines and generations of characters, Stephen King does have a penchant of leaving his ideas unrefined. The book is dense with an excessive amount of information. This might be why King’s short stories make for better films, because he was forced to streamline his narrative more, which was then condensed even further in the screenplay.
So it is a little tragic to see a film falter because it decided to stay true to the novel. In It Chapter Two there’s an entire character journey that could have been scrapped. It’s interesting to see another side to how Pennywise operates, sure, but it ultimately has no impact on the narrative. It’s the same case in the book. There are other extraneous scenes as well. I’m torn because while it’s great that they’re in there because it pays more homage to the book, the question has to be asked whether a good screenplay writer should honor the source material or make the tough cuts in order to produce a tighter film. King’s It is on the clunky side, and it’s curious whether just the core concept–a looser “inspired by the novel” film–would make for a better movie.
As such, the first film is the better half. Though it would be more apt to describe it as a third, as It Chapter Two seems to cover the other two-thirds of the novel. It (2017) is more self-contained, more traditionally structured and has the freedom to toy with the audience a bit more.
That said, It Chapter Two is by no means a bad film. It’s still competent in many areas and it’s possibly the most accessible horror movie of 2019. The camera doesn’t linger or make a spectacle of the carnage, unlike Brightburn, so it’s palatable for people who aren’t a fan of gore (bleeding wounds and horrific injuries), despite a sprinkling of gruesome-looking critters. It’s not as dark and brutal as The Nightingale, nor is it as conceptually dense as Us, or a slower burn than Midsommar. It’s like Crawl–a middle grounded entertaining romp. It may not be scary enough to have you running to hug your closest Pomeranian for comfort, but it’s rich enough to make you question your deepest, darkest fears. …Or you could just watch it for the Pom scene, as that’s almost worth the admission price alone!
The Bottom Line