Movies & TV

Review: It Chapter Two Tells Grown-ups to Exorcise the Manipulative Clowns in Their Lives

The Losers return to Derry 27 years later for some unfinished business with Pennywise.
IMAGE Warner Bros. Pictures.

The Losers return to Derry 27 years later for some unfinished business and it’s a nostalgic and sometimes scary carnival ride that treads on the path left by the first movie. Perhaps the one word to describe chapter two of this cinematic adaptation of Stephen King’s contentious yet seminal work is “satisfying.” That in itself should be worth the price of admission, particularly for audiences who left theaters in 2017 anticipating this reunion. In some ways, it’s just enough of a cinematic rendezvous, but in others, it’s an exceedingly long trudge through memory lane and a slow buildup to an anticipated climax. Running at 169 minutes, It Chapter Two gives enough of an excuse for the faint-hearted to take a break during the scary moments. 

And there are lots of them. One of the most important elements of the material’s horror is that It targets little children. The extradimensional creature Pennywise feeds on the fear of children, taking on the form of their worst fears, abducts them, and leaves tragedy and trauma in its wake. While the first film opened with Pennywise’s murder of little Georgie Denbrough, the follow-up opens with a homophobic hate crime that’s a reference to the real-life murder of 15-year-old Charlie Howard in Maine, 1984. The victim this time is an adult male, with the horrifying scene leading directly to Pennywise and the implication that grown-ups are on the menu now, as well.  

Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures..

Rightly so, of course, because our heroes are all grown up. Twenty-seven years later, the members of the Losers Club save for Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) have all moved out of their small town of Derry and lead disparate lives. Bill (James McAvoy) is a stutter-free successful novelist-cum-screenwriter; Richie (Bill Hader) is a popular standup comedian; hypochondriac Eddie (James Ransone) is a risk assessor married to an overbearing woman largely reminiscent of his mother; Ben (Jay Ryan) has shed all of the excess weight and is now a six-pack sporting architect; Beverly (Jessica Chastain) is a fashion designer trapped in an abusive marriage; and we also have Stanley (Andy Bean), now an accountant. 

When killings start happening again, Mike brings back the old gang through a montage that feels both tragic and triumphant. The return of the Losers to Derry feels inevitable and doomed, if only because Beverly has been granted the premonition of everyone’s deaths after being exposed to the deadlights. In this way, the Losers’ return is less a reckoning for the creature It but a fight for survival. It’s a necessary device in a story where audiences who’ve sat through the first film know that these were the same children who defeated the creature the first time around. 

Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures..
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As adults, naturally, the Losers feel more powerful and equipped to take on the creature, making it a challenge for director Andy Muschietti to maintain a sense of true fear and terror. Perhaps specifically because of this limitation, Muschietti has elected to inject levity into the various encounters whereby they become a caricature of terror. The encounters are creepy, but they lack the menace of the first film. They are delightfully disturbing at times, with the Chinese restaurant menagerie and the homage to John Carpenter’s Thing being among a couple of the most entertaining scenes. 

Perhaps more terrifying than It is the reality that grown-ups need to make peace with the ghosts of the past in order to truly move forward and grow. This is especially true for Beverly, who was sexually abused by her father and ended up falling into a cycle of abuse. The fact that trauma survivors are at high risk of ending up in abusive relationships is insidiously more terrifying than a fictional, child-eating, extradimensional clown. The same is true for the gay man brutally assaulted at the beginning of the film. In fact—spoiler alert—the perpetrators never getting justice in the film feels like one of the film’s low points. It happens far too often in real life for Pennywise not to eat the homophobes. 

Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures. .

The real-life issues we face or the traumas we endure as children and must overcome as adults make fantastical horror almost laughable. Muschietti seems to know this and lets us in on the joke, which is why every horrific encounter with Pennywise is tinged with a bit of humor. This renders this R-rated film less than scary but slightly more relevant. One area that feels like it could’ve hit a home run but failed to follow through is with Hader’s Richie, whose internal struggles were only touched on but never given the gravitas and camera time it deserved. It’s a shame because Hader delivered such a powerful performance that more scenes with Richie’s struggles would’ve added more to the story. 

That being said, It Chapter Two is a momentous undertaking. The bold—and commercially successful—decision to split the film into two distinct parts featuring the Losers as children and then later as adults necessarily excised a lot of parts in what was actually a physically unwieldy book. With so many characters to focus on and so much story to tell, Muschietti skims over the religious and metaphysical discussions King’s novel explores. The film is comprised of tiny segments featuring each Loser as he or she faces demons in the forms taken by the creature It; they come together for a terrifying clown crescendo in the depths of the Well House on Neibolt Street.  

Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures..

There’s a certain joy to seeing power in the hands of ordinary folks who believe they can slay monsters. It evokes the beats of the first film, with narrative aids in the form of numerous flashbacks and digitally de-aged child actors whose faces and bodies changed between the filming of It Chapter One and its continuation. As with the first film, the true strength of the Losers is in their unity. It’s a timely message in an age when real-life sinister forces are hellbent on driving people apart. It’s a deliberate emphasis on King’s novel by Muschietti, who has likened Pennywise to Trump, and while the tone of the film is far from political, it is a clarion call for people to exorcise their fears, come together, and banish malevolent, manipulative clowns from their lives.

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Hugo Zacarias Yonzon IV
Zach Yonzon is a cake artist and co-owner of Bunny Baker
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