2017’s IT was always going to be a tough act to follow. Critically and commercially lauded, it boasted a brilliant cast of child actors who displayed a perfect balance of camaraderie and banter that perfectly tapped into the nostalgic consciousness of 80s ‘kid-friendly’ horror. Not far behind you had Bill Skarsgård’s scene-stealing turn as Pennywise, arguably on par with Tim Curry’s seminal portrayal in the 90s TV adaptation – a true horror icon for a new generation. Not without its flaws, IT Chapter One was relatively faithful to Stephen King’s source material, with the man himself giving it his seal of approval.
As with the TV version, It Chapter Two with a reintroduction to the The Losers’ Club as adults – perfectly cast against their child counterparts. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), who has remained in Derry since the events of the first film, learns of Pennywise’s return and takes it upon himself to persuade his childhood friends to fulfil the blood oath they made to destroy him once and for all. Each member is perfectly realised in their respective intros with Eddie (James Ransone) and Richie (Bill Hader) being standouts. If the adult casting missed a single beat, Chapter Two could have been a complete disaster. This really is testament to the child actors with further evidence being the heavy reliance on flashbacks. Although the adult cast are generally likeable and more importantly, believable in their development I enjoyed seeing the return of the original cast. It’s no secret that director Andy Muschietti had shot a lot of additional footage for Chapter One that never made the theatrical cut but with its success becoming evident very early on during its run, it wouldn’t surprise me if the studio optioned Chapter Two well in advance to avoid obvious off-screen puberty – knowing full well that the films main pull was the dynamism and energy of its child actors.
That’s not to say that was the only pull. Of course, one of the biggest attractions was Pennywise the Dancing Clown, played with malevolent, childish glee by Bill Skarsgård. Pennywise was front and centre during Chapter One so much so that it’s a shame he’s not used (although his nightmarish CG iterations are) as much in Chapter Two. Despite this really being about The Losers’ Club and the retrieval of their depleted memories to deal with their repressed childhoods, it would have been great to see more of him rather than a flurry of CG abominations. CG was used and amalgamated well with practical effects, yet it was done sparingly in Chapter One and now it feels over relied-upon which unfortunately renders some terrifying set-pieces (perfectly crafted by Muschietti’s directing) surprisingly empty. Tonally, Chapter Two works well as a companion piece to the first film – with Muschietti stating that there will be a super-cut available at a later stage, but it would have been good to see the film mature (much like The Losers’ Club) in the scare stakes. Again, as with Pet Semetary (another 2019 King adaptation) it’s as if the studio was reluctant to delve deeper into the traumatic themes that dominated the novel – something that would have proved hard, yet poignant for today’s film going public… as well as scaring the living shit out of them.
With King’s novel spanning 1,138 pages there is a lot to cram in, warranting Chapter Two’s colossal 169 minute runtime. In hindsight it could have shaved off 30 minutes though it never really felt like the slog I anticipated with a plethora of varied scenes to keep you focused, and more importantly, entertained. We’re ushering in a new era of horror film, the ‘Shockbuster’ if you will, where thematic elements are further explored and bigger budgets granted to achieve this coherently. Whether this truly works within the horror arena is still open to debate, with Chapter Two not necessarily being the best example of this sub-genre. Where Chapter Two doesn’t quite capture the charm, and if we’re being honest, nostalgia, of Chapter One that resonated with audiences first-time round, there’s no denying that the essence of King’s novel is there – even if it does feel watered down.