I still remember watching the credits start rolling at the end of IT, feeling my heart drop as soon as it was revealed that the second half of the book would be adapted for the big screen. Mind you, a huge part of it had to do with the fact that I would have to confront more visual images of clowns. However, the other part of my fear was knowing that seeing the adult versions of this gang of kids confront their more complicated fears when they returned to Derry would hit close to home. Despite my fear and apprehension in going to see IT CHAPTER TWO, I left the theater feeling happy that the film served as a proper conclusion to its highly successful previous installment.
The film starts off twenty-seven years after the events of the first film, with the Losers gang living their separate adult lives apart from one another. After a particularly gruesome murder linked to Pennywise following a homophobic attack is discovered by Mike (played by Isaiah Mustafa), he reaches out to the individual Losers to summon them back home to finish what they had attempted to accomplish 27 years prior. When the Losers are assembled, they must all look within themselves and overcome their own personal traumas and fears while also dealing with the rampantly sadistic Pennywise’s actions. This all ultimately comes together in what results in a powerfully emotional and tension inducing finale that will have audience goers sitting at the end of their seat or curled up slightly in a ball like I was.
After the success of the previous installment, there was definitely a lot of pressure for IT CHAPTER TWO to live up to expectations. There were a lot of factors involved in this film in order to make the follow-up work and director Andy Muschietti, producer Barbara Muschietti, and writer Gary Dauberman knew this going into development. Most importantly, the casting of the adult Losers had to be absolutely on point in order to sell the audience on the believability of the characters. Needless to say, they absolutely nailed it with the casting. James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Isaiah Mustafa, and Andy Bean portray the adult versions of the Losers impeccably, adding nuances to their performances that showed the progression of the characters to this point. We get to see how hard their work pays off with the return of the original Losers in a handful of flashback scenes featuring the kids.
Seeing Jaeden Martell, Wyatt Oleff, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Chosen Jacobs, and Jack Dylan Grazer return in scenes also helps remind the audience what made IT as good as it was. Their chemistry is electric and, thanks in part to Dauberman’s writing, we get the chance to see each character – both young and old – get their due when the group splits up on and off throughout the course of IT CHAPTER TWO. It is something that Dauberman definitely gets props for because, with a group of characters this big, it can be easy to want to focus more on some characters rather than others. But instead, we get to see how each character has grown and how each individual handles the reconciliation of their childhood trauma. Through a combination of all of the actors’ impeccable abilities, Muschietti’s direction, and Dauberman’s writing, we get to walk away from the film remembering who each character was.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise. Once again, Skarsgård is incredibly terrifying. His clownish makeup and attire aside, he once again utilizes his full physicality to not only lure us into a false sense of security but also completely and utterly destroy us. You can easily see Pennywise’s methods change depending on the age of the character it is dealing with. I mention this because there is an adult maliciousness that rears up in his scenes with the adult Losers that we didn’t get in the previous installment. It’s such a subtle behavioral difference, but I really liked the addition of that change to this older Pennywise. As has been the case in his recent work, Skarsgård has made Pennywise his own and quite literally knocks it out of the park.
The biggest concerns that I think audiences might have going into the IT CHAPTER TWO is how certain, more metaphysical components of the story would be handled. The first concern I’ll address is the Ritual of Chüd. At its core, the Ritual of Chüd is a battle of wills. In the book, the Ritual is quite silly. There’s tongue biting, joke-telling, and banishing to Netherworlds for the loser of the battle. However, the way the Muschiettis and Dauberman have handled the construction of the Ritual in the film helps to retain the essence of the battle of wills that the Ritual embodies while also keeping it grounded and more serious. I believe most audiences will like the changes made to the Ritual, but die-hard book fans may not like it depending on how much they enjoy change.
Another metaphysical component that IT CHAPTER TWO addresses is Pennywise’s final form. Now, I can only speak for myself, but I remember the spider creature that some of us got to experience with the ’90s miniseries adaptation of IT. So as not to spoil the surprise, I can say that our technology is way better than what production teams had access to back in the early ’90s. While the final result of Pennywise’s final form isn’t as believable as I would personally like it to be, it’s still pretty frightening and it combines all sorts of phobias together. So, for those who are more phobia-inclined, you have been warned.
While the metaphysical elements might have been the top of the concern list for audiences, I think another thing that audiences might be concerned with is what written changes would be made in the adaptation. Let’s be honest with ourselves. The original novel was a little strange, even for Stephen King. And, to add onto that, the novel was long. Really long. So, there are certain concessions that had to be made in order to ensure that the pacing was smooth. And, despite its running time, the pacing in IT CHAPTER TWO is very smooth. This comes down to the splicing of the scenes and Andy Muschietti knowing exactly what needs to be edited and cut down to ensure a piece that flows. While there have been some edits to the story like, for example, the drastic cutting down of Beverly’s husband in the film, the elements that were cut out were ones that would detract from the overall story and weigh it down.
All of these things said, there were a couple of minor issues that I did have with the film. One of these issues was the execution of some of the CGI elements involved. The most obvious example of this was the de-aging done to the original Losers cast. De-aging technology has come a long way in recent years, with some of it obtaining an uncanny valley-like quality. However, there is still a little ways to go with the technology as evidenced by how it was used on the rapidly growing child cast. Although it is more subtle than say Captain Jack Sparrow in the latest installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, it is still pretty obvious that work has been done. The other CGI utilized is more to execute the more frightening elements of the film, with highly successful results. You know that it’s not practical and has an unrealistic quality, but it still makes you want to curl up in a ball and cry.
The other element that I noticed is more in line with what I think horror fans might have an issue with. There is a perfect blending of comedy and horror in IT CHAPTER TWO. I personally didn’t have an issue with the comedy since it lured me and the others in the audience into a false sense of security. The comedy is more of a cushion, bringing the audience back in before another frightening scare gets smacked upside our face. However, there may be some people who take issue with how hilarious the film is. Should this be a criticism leveled by audience members, I would say this. There’s a fine line between horror and comedy. Comedy is utilized as a balm to lift our spirits. However, one only needs to take a step over that line to twist the comedy into something truly horrific. And I think that’s why IT CHAPTER TWO succeeds as much as it does.
Overall, IT CHAPTER TWO is a film that does a great job of concluding the story leftover from the previous installment without leaving the audience hanging. The film has so much heart and you can feel how much reverence Dauberman and the Muschiettis have for the source material. It is full of laughter and pain. Fun and terror. Fear and triumph. The cast – both young and old – knock it out of the park, but special attention must be given to Bill Hader as the scene-stealer. If that isn’t enough to sell you on the film, Bill Skarsgård is still beyond terrifying. I do highly recommend seeing the previous installment before going into this film. If anything, just to catch you up.
IT CHAPTER TWO will float its way into theaters this Friday, September 6th.