A return to old haunts and a slaying of one’s demons; a fear that if they fail, heads will roll.
It Chapter Two is one of the more obvious movie metaphors, though make your own minds up on the ongoing gag that the adult Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy), a famous author, is terrible at endings.
If I’m honest the finish is, dare I say, deflating? Though the journey to that point – if uneven, and unsurprising – is an emotional, dark and gruesome ride.
There’s plenty of humour too, and it’s a mixture of dry quips from Bill Hader’s Richie and horror scenes so ridiculously (and deliberately) overwrought I was laughing behind my fingers. Take that scene from the trailer, when adult Beverley visits her childhood apartment and the sweet if flustered elderly woman living there turns into a naked monster who chases her round the room. Initially eerie, the atmosphere heavy like a thunderstorm is about to break, it ends in near-hysteria.
Chapter Two is too long – I went in a fresh-faced 20 year old and emerged aged 483. And while it settles into its own rhythm for the first two-thirds (a rhythm that is slow with repeated sudden interjections of horror), it certainly doesn’t whizz by. I was often engrossed, and I enjoyed the traditional jump scares and undead bodies (all looking like Iggy Pop in The Dead Don’t Die), though I was also sometimes bored.
There are some big set-pieces among the creepiness, but just as frightening is watching damaged adults having to face their terrors in order to escape the chains of childhood; plus a horrible homophobic attack that takes place in Derry. Both of these disturb us because they’re real. The assault on the young gay man may herald a new reign of terror from Pennywise as horrors bubble to the surface infecting Derry’s residents, but it also happens the world over.
The Losers Club members are around 40 now but they’re still losers. Once a loser always a loser, right? They’re proof that even success cannot hide the stain of childhood trauma if you never deal with it; despite stellar careers the scars of their childhoods have not gone away.
Beverley (Jessica Chastain) is a successful designer but she’s in an abusive marriage, her husband just like her dad but a generation younger. Ben (Jay Ryan, heartbreakingly lovelorn), the chunky kid from episode 1, has lost weight and works out – he’s hot, and lovely, and a top architect, but in his head he’ll always be the fat boy with a crush on an unknowing Bev and a target on his back.
Eddie (James Ransone) is a health and safety executive, in a marriage with a woman who seems to bully him. Richie (Bill Hader) is a comedian but something is missing. Bill still feels responsible for his brother Georgie’s death at the hands of Pennywise.
And sweet Stanley (Andy Bean) doing his jigsaw… Stanley can’t cope at all when Mike calls everyone in their new lives and tells them Pennywise is back. “Everyone wants a happy ending, everyone wants closure” says Bill. But even though none of them can even remember what went on, none want to return when Mike summons them, as Bev chain-smokes and Richie vomits at his phone call.
Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) never left Derry, and therefore remembers everything. He’s still the son of drug addicts who died in a fire, but after years of study he says he knows how to kill the clown once and for all, as long as everyone (well, the six who reconvene) is prepared to face their pasts alone.
School bully Henry Bowers (Teach Grant), who killed his dad in the first film, is back. He’s still got his rather glorious mullet, and he’s living in a psychiatric hospital, though not for long.
Stephen King has a terrific cameo as the owner of a curios shop in Derry high street, with Bill’s childhood bike in the window. “Well it’s mine now” the real writer of fiction tells the fictional writer before selling it back to him, a witty comment on their roles from one scribe to another.
Pennywise seeps into everything; there’s no scene that can’t suddenly be interrupted by blood glugging down the stairs. It leaves them (and us) always on the back foot. Derry remains doubly (triply?) sinister: the too-neat town layout combined with the ornate, oppressive (and empty) hotel where they stay, before you even think about what’s going on underneath in the sewers.
The casting is phenomenal, in looks and mannerisms. I honestly wondered if they’d reverse-engineered the whole thing, populating Chapter Two before the first instalment.
Hader is fantastic (though I kept thinking to myself “is that Alan Carr?”): an initially scratchy presence, troubled and always ready with a deflecting wisecrack. Chastain is less of the warmly shining star that Sophia Lillis was in the first film, with the adult Beverley weighed down by the emotional load she carries. Adult Mike has more to do than his younger version in It, though he’s initially the caretaker of the problem.
Be prepared for plenty of flashbacks. I liked them, especially as they merge into the present day (and they’re useful for re-establishing dynamics if you can’t remember, or haven’t seen, the first film).
I haven’t read Stephen King’s novel, so I don’t know how closely the film follows it. The method they use to try to destroy Pennywise doesn’t feel particularly impressive (though the visuals are, even if we’ve seen most of them before). Neither did I find it emotionally engaging. I didn’t care who lived or died, beyond a hope that Ben and Mike made it through.
Movie monsters risk becoming anti-heroes in sequels, their hideousness no longer frightening, their narcissism and vicious humour scarily admirable. We know Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) well now, whether fake-cute smiling or teeth-baringly maniacal – so his decision to mix it up by sprouting spiders’ legs is welcome.
Two of the most common phobias, clowns and spiders, in one enemy: suddenly Pennywise is shivers-down-the-spine frightening again, in a movie when lots of the action returns to places we already know.
Watch the new trailer now and scroll down for images: