Evil has a habit of manifesting itself in many ways; indeed in whatever form it may take (be it murder, assault, abuse etc), our abilities to confront it will always be the trait that defines us, not the evil itself. Thus is this a central theme of Stephen King’s horror master opus IT, and by extension the second and concluding part of its film adaptation, IT: Chapter Two.
As with the first film from 2017, director Andy Muschietti richly explores the various forms of evil that may be present in our daily lives and how friendship and love conquer all. While the most obvious incarnation of malice is the demonic entity known as IT, or Pennywise the Clown, what Stephen King has showcased, along with Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman, is that it is the daily, seemingly little evils that when put together morph into something more sinister.
Pennywise is then ultimately an amalgam of horrors, trauma, and the absence of love, that every 27 years returns to the town of Derry, Maine to continue to inflict suffering. Brimming with allegory, IT: Chapter Two, like its predecessor, is a bona fide fun time at the movies, providing audiences with plenty to think about and of course with the sometimes elusive quest for a good scare; while it is admittedly not as scary or terrifying in terms of suspense or the jump scare tactics of the previous film, Chapter Two doubles down on the creepiness and gives us loads of unsettling images and moments to shudder.
With excellent use of special effects, both practical and digital, the insidious traps and tauntings of Pennywise remain a delight to behold; if there is one detriment to the onslaught of scary scenes, however, it’s that quite often it is difficult to discern what is real and what is just another illusion from the clown. Are our characters really in peril of death or does it just seem that way? With this audiences are definitely kept guessing, but often stakes are diminished by lack of imminent danger.
Despite this guessing game, whenever Pennywise is on the screen we are treated to a grand and imaginative visual feast, bolstered by a wonderful performance from Bill Skarsgard. Animalistic, menacing, creepy, and even perversely funny, Pennywise is quite the literary character; in his first outing as the monster, Skarsgard proved he was up to the challenge of embodying such an iconic figure (especially in the shadow of Tim Curry), and in Chapter Two brilliantly anchors himself as an inspired choice for the role. Even if the sight of Pennywise is not as scary as it once was, the unpredictable and erratic nature of the demon remains as inventive as ever and Skarsgard brings it all to the forefront in wickedly good fashion.
As for the protagonists, the now-adult Losers Club, a charming magnetism remains amongst the group members as we follow their journey back to the town of Derry to confront and destroy IT once and for all. One of the great highlights of the first film were the standout performances of the young cast and their banter, who were both touchingly innocent as well as raucous; it was a genuine little snapshot of the average 13-year-old giving the film much of its heart. The adult versions of these characters are naturally more morose and gloomy, especially since their first encounters with Pennywise, and yet still their stories remain engaging if occasionally dragged out.
Featuring the talents of Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, and Bill Hader, these grown-up versions are credible embodiments of who the kids would become; Bill Hader’s Richie is the undoubted stand out, and much like Finn Wolfhard’s performance as the young Richie, provides for great comic relief. McAvoy’s Billy remains consumed by guilt over the death of his little brother Georgie, while Chastain’s Beverly struggles to remember the good things that happened in Derry all those years ago.
Effectively using flashbacks, Chapter Two allows us to have the young cast and their adult counterparts on the screen together, cleverly tying events together while serving as a refresher of each character’s story arc. But it is also here where the film drags and feels bloated; indeed at nearly three hours in length, the movie is in no rush to reach its climax. Midway through, all the pieces have been set up for that final battle, but still, there are lulling moments that could have easily been excised in favor of a quicker path to the conclusion.
Yet fault should not be aimed at Muschietti and Dauberman completely for this, but rather Stephen King himself (look out for his cameo in the film). The novel IT is just over 1,000 pages long and translating it to the screen is certainly no enviable task. As with any cinematic adaptation of a novel, the questions always arise as to what to cut and what to keep. In adapting a book as long as King’s this becomes even more challenging, and it is the author who may be accused of dragging his story, not the screenwriter.
No matter how many revisions are made, a film version of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”, for instance, will inevitably be long, even if the screenwriter tries their very hardest. Hence while IT: Chapter Two is undeniably long-winded, it is merely a product of faithfully adapting its source material, then a sense of gloating from its filmmakers.
Perhaps for some and those well versed in the novel the length of the movie will hardly be noticeable, and when it does reach its final act, the lulling spots are mostly forgotten. Bill Skarsgard’s delightfully menacing turn and the wonderful special effects more than compensate for any of the slower moments, and the camaraderie on display between the Losers Club, in both their child and adult incarnations, puts us right in the center of Derry in an engaging fashion.
As the conclusion of this wonderfully imaginative and terrifyingly creepy literary allegorical masterpiece, IT: Chapter Two satisfyingly re-imagines Stephen King’s story for a second time, all the while creating a highly memorable film experience in its own right. In conjunction with Part One, this is a movie that gives its viewers scares, laughs and plenty of food for thought and that once more reinforces the brilliance of its creator and the power of a good story.