Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
IT CHAPTER 2
Rated R, 2 hrs. 49 minutes
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Martell, Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor
Time will ultimately tell, but the greatest takeaways from Andy Muschietti’s two IT films are their sentiments on how fear manifests and metastasizes in children and adults. The entity that takes the form of “Pennywise the Dancing Clown” represents the manipulation of death, grief and anxiety that can pull victims down no matter their age. IT CHAPTER 2 is very much a continuation of the first film’s psychological commentary whilst blending it with darker frights that bruise physically and scar emotionally. A bacchanal of blood, brutal beauty, and bold vision, Muschietti brings King’s wicked nightmare factory alive again with all its terrifying, unhinged madness and gory glory.
It’s been 27 years since seven teen outcasts, nicknamed “The Losers’ Club,” defeated a monster that feasts on the flesh and fears of children. Or so they thought. Now adults, they’ve each been grappling with residual trauma caused by the abuse suffered in their teen years. Bill (James McAvoy) is a horror author working out his issues in between the pages of his best-selling, botched-ending novels (which seems like a self-referential jab at criticisms of IT author Stephen King). Bev (Jessica Chastain) is trapped in an abusive marriage, looking for an escape. Ben’s (Jay Ryan) need for control of chaos led him to change his inner psyche and outer appearance, morphing into a hunky architect. (Beep Beep) Ritchie (Bill Hader, who does most of the third act’s heavy lifting) found his identity as a stand-up comedian, using humor as a coping mechanism. Eddie (James Ransone) channeled his hypochondria into a career in risk management and funneled his angst into a marriage with a woman just like his mother. Stan (Andy Bean) has gone into complete denial about the experience, paving over his pain with a fractured foundation of bravery. And Mike’s (Isaiah Mustafa) inability to move on has kept him held prisoner in Derry, attempting to solve the mystery of the vengeful, demonic shape-shifter’s origins.
After the vicious beating and killing of Adrian Mellon (Xavier Dolan), more kids begin disappearing yet again – and the Losers’ blood oath returns them to ground zero, both physically and psychologically. They discover that their formative years aren’t a crutch to lean on, but rather a weapon to use against the evil plaguing them. It’ll be a bittersweet trip down memory lane – one that’s permeated by the presence of a wall-eyed murder clown (played with a skosh more deranged gusto than in the first chapter by Bill Skarsgård).
Muschietti, along with cinematographer Checco Varese, editor Jason Ballantine and production designer Paul D. Austerberry, delve deeper into the aesthetics of the Losers’ altered worlds. There’s a palpable, saturated richness that wasn’t there before to indicate how they’ve positively progressed from puberty. A fluid, visually poetic swagger re-establishes the characters, utilizing graceful transitions: The sky turns into the bottom of a puzzle piece; blood droplets fall on a character sleeping below. Plus, visual interpretations of misery’s suffocating psychosis work effectively, like when Bill fights being dragged down into a sewer by disembodied hands, or when young and old Eddie’s fears are tied together with the matching sync on their eyes, or when Bev fights a rising tide of blood and a cadre of bullies (replete with a reference to THE SHINING).
However, the picture’s pacing loses some steam whenever the filmmakers flash back to the Losers’ childhood memories. While this is a great way to avoid exposition, bring back the beloved cast of kids (Jaeden Martell, Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs, and Jeremy Ray Taylor), and mimic the novel’s structure more than the previous film did, it breaks up the momentum of getting to know the adults. Worse, Benjamin Wallfisch’s obtrusive score pushes the proceedings into melodramatic territory on more than a few occasions, which hurts tonal fluidity.
That said, Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman still deliver the scares. Scenes set under the bleachers and at the Derry Canal Days funhouse amp up the tension, as does the sequence set in Mrs. Kersh’s apartment. The filmmakers understand that what’s terrifying isn’t always in the foreground, but in the background imagery, lurking out of the corner of your eye. King’s abstract concepts about the entity’s origins are fashioned into something more cinematically cogent as well.
A carnival of creeps with searing statements on grief’s machinations and haunting memories, it’s sure to make even the most cynical horror fan float out of the theater.
IT CHAPTER 2 opens on September 6.