In 2017 the first half of Stephen King’s thousand-plus page thriller, “It,” debuted as one of the decade’s best horror films. Riding high on the 1980s nostalgia and the kid-centered adventures made popular by “Stranger Things,” “It” quickly became the highest-grossing U.S. horror movie ever, and for good reason. Director Andy Muschietti’s film perfectly blended blunt humor with all kinds of scares – psychological terror, blood and gore, and jump scares aplenty – and it was all led by a stellar cast of youngsters.
Now, two years later, “It Chapter Two” is here to officially kick off #spookyszn. Muschietti and the kids are back, along with their newly-cast adult counterparts, and it’s time to bring the terrors of Pennywise the Dancing Clown to an end.
Unfortunately, “Chapter Two” is unable to capture the same aura that made its predecessor so enthralling. Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly still enjoyable, but instead of expanding on everything established in the first film, “Chapter Two” seems to be just fine simply rehashing the things we’ve already seen.
It’s been 27 years since the Losers Club seemingly vanquished Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) from the town of Derry. Wait… 27 years, that seems like an important number, right? Oh wait, that’s because Pennywise returns every 27 years, and this time is no different.
When people start to go missing again, Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) knows what must be done. All those years ago, the Losers Club made an oath that if Pennywise ever returned, they too would come back to Derry to finish things once and for all. While the rest of the Losers left Derry and moved on with their lives, Mike stayed – preparing for this impending showdown. Now, Mike must recruit the rest of his old friends to join him, except there’s one problem: the longer they’ve been away from Derry, the less than can remember about their childhood terrors.
One by one the Losers answer the call and Bill (James McAvoy), Richie (Bill Hader), Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Eddie (James Ransone) and an extremely glo’d up Ben (Jay Ryan) make their way back to Derry. But when Stanley (Andy Bean), perhaps the most traumatized of the group, gets the call, he turns to suicide rather than facing Pennywise again.
With the group reunited, Mike reminds them of the real reason why they’re back in Derry, and slowly the childhood scars are reopened. Mike explains that in order to defeat Pennywise for good, each member of the club must retrieve and sacrifice a “token” that represent their childhood self. As the gang splits up to revisit the summer of 1989, the film alternates between the present-day adult Losers and their childhood counterparts, exploring run-ins with Pennywise we didn’t see the first time around. After each member has their token, the Losers Club must descend into the sewers once more in an attempt to rid Derry of Pennywise once and for all.
If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. When your source material is a slim 1,138 pages, fitting it into a single movie presents a challenge, and “Chapter Two” proves that even two movies isn’t easy. Coming in at 169 minutes, the sequel is 34 minutes longer than the first, which already felt a touch too long. Somewhere in “Chapter Two” there’s an excellent two-hour movie, but by stretching the film to nearly three hours, it ends up dragging quite a bit – particularly when each character is searching for their token.
During this portion of the second act, “Chapter Two” begins to feel extremely formulaic. Instead of approaching each character’s never-before-seen face offs with Pennywise from new angles, each one follows the same pattern: adult Loser visits familiar location, said location prompts traumatic flashback, Pennywise attacks in past and present, Loser escapes. And they do this for every single character. In a film as stuffed to the brim as “Chapter Two,” condensing these sequences could have tightened things by a solid 30 minutes.
Fortunately, the film’s fantastic cast helps to pass the time. The adult Losers Club could not have been cast more perfectly, particularly Hader and Ransone as Richie and Eddie, respectively. There’s no denying the darkness and intensity of a horror movie like “Chapter Two,” which is exactly what allows the two to stand out as some much needed comedic relief, together and individually. It’s no surprise that an SNL alumni and known funny guy like Hader adds some humor to the doom and gloom, but his dramatic performance is even more impressive. As Richie grapples with his fear, his identity and his relationships, Hader adds a surprising gravitas. Still, as good as he may be, I’m not at all sold on the Best Actor Oscar buzz.
However, the biggest issue “Chapter Two” faces comes down to one thing: it’s just not scary. How could a film centered around a murderous, demonic clown not be scary? Well sure, there are plenty of jump scares throughout the film, but it isn’t truly scary in the way its predecessor felt. That film created a disturbing and haunting atmosphere by preying on both the characters’, and the audiences’, extreme psychological fears and insecurities. This time around, that has all been brushed to the wayside in exchange for the same cheap and predictable scares that populate every generic horror flick. Yes, those may get your heart rate up, but it takes no talent to fade out the sound in a dark room and have a monster jump out from behind a corner.
There’s plenty to like about “It Chapter Two,” and it does a satisfactory job in bringing this story to a close, but compared to the story that Muschietti first introduced, it’s a bit of a disappointment. Luckily, the cast alone is redeeming enough to make the whopping runtime feel worth the watch, and no matter how cheap they may feel, there are still tons of frights.
Star Rating: 3 out of 5
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.