Some might argue that the second half of Stephen King’s 1986 novel, It, is less intriguing than the other half. Such an argument becomes more concerning especially when director Andy Muschietti has overcome the unfilmability of the source material and crafted a sympathetic and, most importantly, a scary adaptation of It back in 2017. Yet, rest assured Muschietti, working with Gary Dauberman (Annabelle Comes Home) on the writing department, has delivered an adept It Chapter Two, coalescing some elements of the first film into creating a beautiful Stephen King-adapted drama, even when it sacrifices the scare.
Clocking in at 169 minutes, It Chapter Two presents a solid narrative that relies on over-exposition and spectacles. For some, the duration might seem intimidating, and yet, for those enchanted by the first movie, the massive duration feels necessary to complete the full circle. Chapter Two takes the time to re-introduce the members of Losers’ Club who have now grown up and, at the same time, woe the audience with the perfect casting for each character. What the sequel does not take too long to reintroduce is the titular villain a.k.a. the insidious clown-shaped alien, Pennywise (still eloquently portrayed by Bill Skarsgård), who returns to haunt the town of Derry once again.
The story does not immediately pick up where the first movie left out, instead, it follows the source material format—necessarily alternating between timelines. Set 27 years after the event in It, the narrative follows the grown-up Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), now a local librarian in Derry, as he assembles the Losers’ Club members who have respectively moved out of town and found new lives. Stuttered Bill (James McAvoy) has become a horror novelist; Bev (Jessica Chastain) has to endure the abusive marriage; the foul-mouthed Richie (Bill Hader) is a successful stand-up comedian; hypochondriac Eddie (James Ransone) marries a woman who looks just like his mother and becomes a risk assessor; Ben (Jay Ryan) shapes up and grows confidence; meanwhile, Stanley (Andy Bean) has married. Now that Pennywise has returned, the Losers’ Club is bound to the blood oath they took at the end of the first movie; and they have to unite and confront the malicious creature once more.
When the first movie decides to separate the timeline (instead of making the narrative interrelated), the narrative is solid, combining coming-of-age drama and effective frights. That leaves the second chapter with minimum expositions and limited materials to develop without ending up becoming a repetitive story. And yet, Dauberman’s screenplay is quite proficient and generous in treating the repetition as some juxtaposing moments that make a perfect circle. In Chapter Two, Dauberman and Muschietti successfully frame the sequel as a cycle of how childhood fear and trauma affect the protagonists’ life and how they gradually overcome them and finally let go of the bad past. Therefore, the narrative is leaning towards the dramatic conclusion which plays out audiences’ sympathy for the beloved characters.
Muschietti handles the drama effectively to the cost that he’s got to restrain the urge for some atmospheric horror. Ever so often, It Chapter Two must resort to blatant jump-scares to retain its horror status. Pennywise still becomes the scare-magnet with his shapeshifting terrors even when his apparitions have lost some surprise factor. And yet, Muschietti is still keen to place a series of harrowing imagery throughout the movie to remind you how visceral Stephen King’s horrors can be at its bleakest point.
McAvoy and Chastain respectively make a believable version of their characters. McAvoy’s Bill stutters erratically when he’s nervous just like Jaeden Martell’s (previously known as Leiberher) Bill as a kid. Chastain perfectly lands a way more mature version of Bev, whose life is no stranger to abuse. Hader’s Richie often steals the show after getting a modern upgrade—from a DJ to be a stand-up comedian—which apparently suits him well. As it turns out, there’s more to his character than a blabbermouth Finn Wolfhard. Other cast members are perfectly cast to resemble the younger actors in It (2017) from the looks to the gesture. The movie’s bloated duration carefully makes use of the characters to build sympathy which becomes the power of this sequel.
The final verdict says: with a perfect ensemble of casts, exquisitely calibrated spectacles and a series of harrowing imagery, It Chapter Two is a beautiful treat—even if the drama often overshadows the scarefest.