Directed by Andy Muschietti. Starring Bill Skarsgard, James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Jay Ryan, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ransone, Andy Bean.
The Plot: 27 years after their traumatic first childhood encounter with shape-shifting evil presence Pennywise (Bills Skarsgard), the seven members of the Losers Club must gather again in Derry to confront their fears. The now adult Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) has been keeping the flame and the terrifying memories alive in Derry. When a new series of murders occur, he calls on Bill (James McAvoy), Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Ben (Jay Ryan), Richie (Bill Hader), Eddie (James Ransone) and Stan (Andy Bean) to return. As they gather and reminiscence on their childhood, Mike reminds them why they’re there. The others have all but forgotten about what happened with Pennywise. Each must go on their own terrifying trip down memory lane before coming together to pop Pennywise’s red balloon for good…
The Verdict: Looking back on it now, it’s hard to believe that a sequel to the biggest grossing horror film of all time wasn’t a sure thing shortly before release. Warner Brothers caged their bets and waited for the figures to come in for Chapter One of It exactly two years ago. Maybe it’s a sign of Hollywood caution given that sequels shouldn’t be assumed, but the film was based on an established Stephen King novel and had already terrified a generation and caused sleepless nights in the 1990 miniseries. But the boffo box office proved that horror is in rude health and a sequel was duly commissioned, with all key creative talents returning including director Andy Muschietti, his teenage cast and their new, middle-aged selves.
This isn’t so much a sequel as a continuation though, with a carefully calibrated time jump and an emphasis very much on escalation. If you thought Chapter One was unnerving and creepy, then strap yourself into Chapter Two for a wild ride into the darkest side of sheer terror. The imagination on display here and commitment to scaring audiences out of their senses is quite astounding, both visually and aurally. Working with a bigger budget this time around, Muschietti conjures up some skin-crawling close encounters with It in its various guises – most commonly the clown Pennywise. Clowns will no doubt have hard a time getting work at children’s parties this autumn, but King has previously brushed off any accusations of demonising them. This is the clown as a malevolent figure with a nightmare-inducing set of large razor-sharp teeth, rather than the happy/sad one we’re all familiar with.
Muschietti not only works with a broader canvas this time, but increases the length to make it one of the longest horror films ever made. Not that you’d notice too much, as he uses every minute to further the story of the Losers Club and how they’ve changed or stayed the same over time. He blends the past and the present in a rather elegant and considered fashion, weaving an epic horror story over the course of 5+ hours in two distinct chapters. He flashes back at appropriate moments to allow his younger cast to take over for newly-shot scenes which then echo back into the present. The transition between the young and older cast is mostly seamless, with the older cast just as terrified of confronting the unknown, ancient evil behind Pennywise. Speaking of whom, Skarsgard is excellent once again, in a variety of large and small performances. McAvoy and Chastain bring some star power and gravitas, while the camaraderie and sense of humour among the rest of the cast is palpable.
If there’s one slight misstep here, it’s in the epic climax which goes through several convulsions and the visual effects department almost dominate. Early investigative scenes involving a potential mythology to It are hinted at, but then don’t seem as important later on. It ultimately comes down to a battle of wills and confronting fears – pushing the monster back into the closet and locking the door, so to speak. Thankfully, Muschietti gives it resonance by reminding us who these characters are and the sacrifices they’ve made to finally stop It. It’s a rescue of sorts in the editing room, but the climax ultimately works.
Throw in some welcome cameos, including one from King himself and some respectful nods to the likes of John Carpenter and you’ve got yourself a thrilling fairground rollercoaster ride with dodgy brakes and twisty turns. It: Chapter Two is a resounding success and should scare up a storm of clowns at the box office once again. Be afraid. Be very afraid…