Andy Muschietti’s return to Derry, Maine is accompanied by incomparable fanfare. It floated up, up and away to inflated critical infatuation and mountains of box office returns, creating an instant genre phenomenon. It’s an unfair success for any sequel to live up to, even enlisting a star-studded adult Losers cast. Could It: Chapter Two replicate the darkness, sincerity, and clown-about terror of 2017’s face-painted juggernaut? Muschietti does Stephen King proud in completion but falls short in bottling carn-evil perfection twice in one franchise (still praise).
Twenty-seven years after the “Losers’ Club” defeats Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), dismembered corpses start turning up once again. Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), the only “Loser” still living in Derry, phones his childhood gang to honor their blood oath promise. Should Pennywise resurface, they’d return home and finish the dancing clown for good. Bill (James McAvoy), Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Richie (Bill Hader), Ben (Jay Ryan), Eddie (James Ransone), and Stanley (Andy Bean) can’t remember the horrors of their childhood – until back in Derry. They’re all grown up and ready for action, but Pennywise isn’t going down without a supernatural fight.
For reference, I consider It atop its horror class in 2017 and Skarsgård’s performance Nu-Horror royalty. It: Chapter Two isn’t as insidiously affecting nor is Skarsgård allowed to enrich Pennywise’s preying on Losers’ weaknesses and Derry’s small-town hatred. Terrorization loses itself in Muschietti’s more playful “haunts,” most favoring VFX creature formations with googly eyes and downgraded menace (Bev’s stalker, for instance, doesn’t work for me). Pennywise’s hunting of childhood Bill and Bev catapulted Skarsgård into a boogeyman ranking unto himself, but round two suffers from animated exhaustion. There’s less reliance on Pennywise’s snarling jowls and Skarsgård’s performatively bastardized innocence when luring underage victims. Muschietti has way more fun glamming up Pennywise’s big-top tortures, which is both a compliment and detractor scene by scene.
Undeniable is the universal size of It: Chapter Two, unheard of by today’s studio standards. While other producers shortchange horror budgets for maximum profitability, Warner Brothers conveys a sign of faith that studios are still willing to invest in big-budget horror. From animated lumberjack statues to psychotropic park sequences with frozen townsfolk, I haven’t seen blockbuster horror blown this big in some time. Muschietti ensures you see every last cent on screen in terms of qualitative justice served unto written It pages destined for cinematic adaptation. Bloody bathroom stall floods, the “Ritual Of Chüd,” scampering homages to Carpenter’s The Thing – scale is Muschietti’s friend, investing in massiveness that is – beyond imagination – enveloping.
It’s in connectivity and pacing that It: Chapter Two sinks before it swims. Scarepiece construction keeps anxiety tight, but stable strides aren’t hit until adult characters reunite for Chinese food. Maybe it’s a more substantial inclusion of aggressor Pennywise – alien form exposed – or maybe child endangerment accentuates King’s earnestness and bike-gang bonding on deeper levels versus adulthood. As is, Muschietti’s most significant accomplishments in narration involve Pennywise’s takeovers. Subplots like Henry Bowers’ (Teach Grant) wayward inclusion are forgettably second fiddle.
While others praise doubled-down empathy, I never felt the paralyzing chills of Pennywise’s gaze or coming-of-age horrors previously achieved. The film’s near three-hour running length weighs heavy at times. All the red luftballons in Germany can’t distract from a film that’s checking off boxes. It’s overall less impassioned, but still a frightfully fangs-out funhouse horror watch.
Flip-flopping back towards performances, casting director Rich Delia deserves a standing ovation. Jay Ryan as the now-shredded architect Ben, baby fat be gone, sports Jeremy Ray Taylor’s facial attributes with doppelgänger accuracy. Jessica Chastain the surefire Bev. James Ransone spitting the blabbermouth neurosis of Jack Dylan Grazer’s Eddie, mannerisms beat-for-beat. None better than Bill Hader’s “matured” comedian Richie aka Trashmouth though, who steals scene after scene through bleak humor and reluctant heroism and self-centered cowardice. There are moments where each aged Loser proves precisely why they’ve been chosen, from McAvoy’s stutter to Isaiah Mustafa’s nobility. These are, recognizably and undeniably, your Losers.
Expect a gestation period where gang chemistry slowly develops. At first, actors appear to be lifting impressions of their younger co-stars more than playing years-later roles. McAvoy takes time to ease into Bill’s skin, a sentiment duplicated by singular vignettes of each Loser receiving Mike’s beckoning call. Background exposition that takes us farther from Pennywise’s grasp. Cameras open on Derry, but then travel across America to check-in with scattered Losers. Gary Dauberman’s screenplay loses momentum and requires a kickstart upon shifting focus back to Maine’s supernatural soul-eater, afterward catching fire as Pennywise reemerges.
Muschietti might get goofier with Pennywise’s attacks, but horror still reigns supreme (Adrian’s inclusion sets an out-the-gate precedent). In addition to It: Chapter Two’s unfathomable blockbuster presence, some of my favorite stylistic visions make for memorable genre bites. Pennywise’s daylight showdowns with separated Losers permits dread sunup or sundown, and red balloons layer a sanguine colorization filter atop petrified faces. Signatures of It sneak into Chapter Two, yet Muschietti strikes a different tonality more akin with Annabelle Comes Home and Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. It the beady set of eyes piercing through shadows, executed fear of the constricting and unshakable variety, and It: Chapter Two the monster-a-minute creepshow defined by intensified highs between less enthralling (but still well serviced) storytelling.
As a critic, I’m forced to do my job and spotlight cinematic facets that fit together less fluidly this time around (VFX reliance, jumpy narratives, etc.). As a horror fan, I marvel at one of the grandest, all-in recent genre treatments next to Wan’s most expensive Conjurverse efforts. It: Chapter Two makes a statement in favor of big-budget horror in this year, 2019. Comparisons to It be damned – although inevitable – Andy Muschietti closes the book on back-to-back Stephen King adaptation brilliance. It one of the decade’s greatest horror films, It: Chapter Two an accomplished collection of Pennywise’s crooked grins, howlable horror designs, and whimsical wretchedness that breathes King’s ideologies from start to finish.
It Chapter 2 downgrades Pennywise's presence amidst the adult Losers' coming together, but is still a funhouse-freaky sequel that makes quite the statement in terms of scaling blockbuster horror bigger and grander.