Director: Andy Muschietti
Writers: Gary Dauberman (script), Stephen King (book)
Cast: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ransone, Jay Ryan, Andy Bean, Bill Skarsgård
Producers: Roy Lee, Dan Lin, Barbara Muschietti
Music: Benjamin Wallfisch
Cinematographer: Checco Varese
Editor: Jason Ballentine
Running time: 171mins
What’s the story: Twenty seven years after the terrifying events of 1989, members of the Losers gang must return to Derry once again to battle the monstrous evil taking the form of killer clown Pennywise.
What’s the verdict: Early on in Andy Muschietti’s closing chapter to his 2017 hit, successful horror author Bill Densborough (McAvoy) is wrestling with the ending to a script he’s adapting from one of his books.
Bill is repeatedly reminded he cannot write endings throughout IT Chapter Two. This may be a nod-wink joke to the fact Stephen King’s 1986 source novel has a climax that left many scratching their heads (but in truth works well). Or that the 1990 mini-series changed the ending to a big rubber monster showdown. Or that King is often criticised for not being able to do endings.
It could also be tacit acknowledgement that this film does not stick the landing. Watching Chapter Two is a constant battle with the monster of expectation. About eighty minutes in (so halfway through the distended runtime) is the realisation you are meeting this far more than halfway and time and effort will not be rewarded.
Early scenes are promising. An opening homophobic attack in modern day (well, 2016) Derry, featuring cameo’ing director Xavier Dolan, chillingly establishes the town as a place grown toxic through evil. The subsequent return of Pennywise amidst a blizzard of signature red balloons is grade-A movie horror.
Big, mainstream horror moments pepper Muschietti’s film. That scene from the teaser trailer with Beverly in the old lady’s flat plays well and has a deliriously OTT finale, maybe part inspired by The Shining. Elsewhere, the spiteful demons of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead seem to be reference points and there’s a direct nod to The Thing.
The amnesia that coats the Losers who left Derry, and subsequently became wildly successful, works well as metaphor that teenage years are packed with moments ameliorated by time passing.
There’s also another cameo we’ll not spoil, but is a wonderful moment.
But, two flaws in Gary Dauberman’s script and Andy Muschietti’s direction hobble this sequel: mean spiritedness and an incoherence as to the rules of Pennywise’s powers.
For a film that deals with childhood abuse and trauma, including incest, assault and death, striking a balance between light and dark was going to be tough. But, Muschietti slathers his film in bad vibes.
The adult Losers rarely show the camaraderie of their childhood counterparts and receive thinner characterisation despite the extended duration. McAvoy’s Bill remains the group’s leader, but does not do much leading. Better would have been to shift focus onto Mike (Mustafa), the sole Loser who remained in Derry to keep watch and sends the call out when IT returns. As it is, his character is sidelined after getting the band back together.
Of the gang, Chastain and Hader take home acting honours as the adult Beverly and Richie, despite having little to do bar be terrified by visions of Pennywise. Likewise Jay Ryan’s Ben, now trim but still pining for Bev, and Ransone and Bean’s tremulous Eddie and Stan. By filleting support characters from King’s book, swathes of the cast are left with little to do other than deliver frequent f-bomb riddled rants that don’t allow much room for audience engagement.
Coupled with this is a lack of coherence around its central villain. Despite seeing Pennywise murder two children (both disturbing, one definitely unearned) and an adult, the demon clown’s actual powers remain vague. Each Loser is plagued by a personal vision of trauma and terror, but danger levels diminish when it grows apparent actual threat to life is negligible.
Doubly damaging is these episodes carry little progression: they could have been reshuffled in the script and the overall effect would be unchanged. While some hit home, none of them have the impact of that library scene from the IT mini-series when only Richie can see the blood balloons burst over people (and a redo of that now would have achieved it without actors flinching).
You’re left remembering Dauberman may have written the excellent Annabelle: Creation, but he also penned the fun but illogical The Nun and that Manson Family dud Wolves at the Door.
No prizes for guessing the ending is botched. Reworking the climax of the 2017 movie does not create any tingles down the spine as events are revisited, just the lasting impression King was right to go cosmic with his denouement.
Yet, what is undiminished by the disappointment of IT Chapter Two is Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise. Bill Hader may be winning all the critical plaudits, but Skarsgård’s seductive, malicious, deadly embodiment of absolute evil is what keeps this bloated beast from flatlining.
The scariest thing about IT Chapter Two? Andy Muschietti’s suggestion there could be a Chapter Three. We’ll try to forget that and instead get excited by Doctor Sleep.