Movie Review: “It Chapter 2” – Down to Clown

Written by Jeremiah Greville September 24, 2019

Pennywise the Dancing Clown is back! It’s been 27 years since we last saw him…or 2 years, if you live here in this sad horror-show we call the real world, but he’s back! In a three hour movie! That…is all about reconnecting with your past and discovering ancient secrets? Not just more clown murder? Consider us whelmed! It Chapter 2 doesn’t fully live up to the 2017 first film, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t much to love here. If you’re a fan of the weirder elements of Stephen King’s novels or the man himself, this may be the flick for you. But if you don’t happen to have the patience for three hours of clown history and emotional baggage, you might want to pass.

It Chapter 2 is set 27 years after the events of the first film, which took place in 1988. This film stars Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, James McAvoy, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, and James Ransone as the now-adult ‘Losers Club’, who are forced to return to Derry, Maine to once again confront the terrifying Pennywise the Clown. Bill Skarsgård returns to play Pennywise and is still the highlight performance of both films. You will absolutely need to see the first It to get the most out of this sequel, but it’s not required viewing to follow what’s happening. Ya see…the first movie was simple: killer demon clown haunts and hunts kids. This one isn’t, despite the fact that it should be.

“I’ve dreamt of you. I craved you. Oh I’ve missed you!”

The problem comes in adapting this story from Stephen King’s original 1986 novel. The novel, if you haven’t read it, is set between the 1950s and 1980s and goes back and forth between the two periods, alternating between the protagonists as children and as adults. We learn the history of Pennywise, AKA the titular “It”, through both time periods, allowing the ultimately insane ending to land with a bit more impact. I’m talking about the book ending here, not the movie one — though this film does maintain a lot of the weirder more esoteric elements of the novel. For those in the know, the novel strongly connects to King’s Dark Tower series. For those not in the know, that means that there’s a whole lot of opaque lore and backstory here — several books worth.

Because of all of that backstory and all of the set-up required, most stories and sequels like this try to do the large bulk of their narrative work in the first half. This usually frees up the second-half to pay-off plot threads and push the story to a satisfying conclusion. Director Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman chose to do something a bit different here — they focused on the terror and threat of Pennywise in the first half, and the lore and history behind him in the second. While this made the first film a surprisingly effective horror flick, it means the second is saddled with exposition and set-up. This is the sequel — we should know these characters and what they’re facing. Instead, we need to learn it all over again, and that’s not good.

“Could say that it was long overdue.”

Most of the film follows the main characters reliving and remembering their pasts while also trying to figure out the truth behind Pennywise, which are all things that should have been taken care of in the first film. Because the characters are adults now, they’re different people that need to be re-introduced. The original child cast of the first are even brought back for additional flashback scenes to fill in gaps. If that isn’t a heavy-enough burden, Muschietti and Dauberman go out of their way to keep a lot of moments from King’s original ending — all of it the weird stuff that requires more explanation. It Chapter 2 is almost three hours long because of this. The film is indulgent, and while the original novel was massive in its own right, this film didn’t need to be.

But while these are certainly problems, they don’t make the film bad. Some of the critical reception to It Chapter 2 has been downright surprising, considering the overall quality. The casting is incredible, and the adult actors really do an amazing job of living up to their younger counterparts. While this film is far less scary than the first due to the way it’s constructed, there are nonetheless many moments of genuinely inspired horror genius throughout. Muschietti maintains his monster-movie skill with Pennywise, treating him like a real physical threat instead of an implacable spectre. He’s a monster with weight and presence and menace, and every moment he spends on screen is a creepy delight.

“No one who dies here ever really dies.”

Like Tim Curry in the original TV movie adaptation, Skarsgård makes Pennywise the best part of the film. It may sound like sacrilege to say that Skarsgård unseats or bests Curry, but his performance is so good that you can comfortably make the argument. As for the rest of the cast, Hader and Mustafa are the standouts. Yes, the SNL funnyman and the Old Spice guy. Their characters feel lived-in and realistic in a way the others don’t. Chastain and McAvoy are both reliably great, but they don’t elevate the material as much. The special effects throughout are incredible, and like Pennywise they all have a practical weight to them that adds to the horror. It’s difficult to tell where the practical effects end and the digital effects begin, and that’s a good thing.

It Chapter 2 is a lot like another Stephen King adaptation that came earlier this year: Pet Sematary. Both films are the most ‘Stephen King-esque’ adaptations to come out in years, each maintaining elements from their respective novels that many have considered unfilmable for decades. For that alone, I think It Chapter 2 is impressive. But that’s not enough for me to recommend it for everyone. It’s simply not as good as the first, and not a very scary film overall. It is however surprisingly emotional, and when it hits the right notes, it really works. If you’ve seen the first film and are invested in the story, it might be time for you to return to Derry. Pennywise has been waiting long enough.

My Rating. 6.5/10

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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