It: Chapter One was a surprise hit which became the biggest horror movie ever, taking an astonishing $700 million at the world-wide box office. It reignited the movie-going world’s love for Stephen King’s imaginative and creepy stories. And whilst critics noted that Chapter One’s ‘amblin-esque’ tone diluted the scares, Warner Bro’s allows director Andy Muschietti to relinquish his shackles and create a sequel which is, at its nature, brutal.
Once a recap of the first instalment is all wrapped up, we are re-introduced to the Loser’s club 27-years after their first meeting with Pennywise the Clown. Each character is expertly presented with a familiarity which showcases the genius re-casting of Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Richie (Bill Maher), Bill (James McAvoy), Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), Eddie (James Ranson), Ben (Jay Ryan) and Stanley (Andy Bean).
Most of the former club have moved on since the terror of Pennywise and Derry. Richie is a successful comedian; Ben is a respected architect. And whilst Beverly may still be suffering with the horror of abuse, though this time from her husband, each character feels lived-in and accessible. Mike is the only member of the club to have remained behind in Derry and after children once again start to go missing, he calls back his former Losers to return and vanquish Pennywise for good.
What is instantly different about Chapter Two, is that we finally see Pennywise as much more than just a shape-shifting monster. It’s brutal nature and bloodlust is fully on display from the moment the movie begins. After a homophobic attack, Pennywise claims his first victim, and quickly the body count rapidly increases.
With an almost 3-hour runtime, Chapter Two never lets up and performs like a complete horror movie, something which Chapter One fell short of. Merely minutes after the first attack, you are left shaken as child after child is devoured by the sadistic Clown.
What is also notable this time around is the development of shapeshifting horrors It now transforms into. As if examining the darkest horrors of the audience, you are left gasping for breath as Pennywise manifests all manner of ghouls and monsters. But these ‘creations’ are mere co-stars to the main event.
Bill Skarsgård has taken a level of character ownership with Pennywise that we rarely see on screen nowadays. His performance is nothing short of pure horrifying magnificence. He has taken the scare dial and escalated them to new heights, and it is both terrifying and wonderful to watch. Perhaps his most frightening moment comes without the ghoulish make-up of the evil Clown. Taunting Beverly as an old man, Skarsgård fully demonstrates his exquisite acting talent, somehow appearing more sinister than at any other point of the film.
The film may not be as deep as the book, but you quickly realise that it doesn’t need to be. Chapter Two isn’t necessarily about the construct of the psyche when faced with unimaginable horror. It is a story about facing your past and those memories of pain, suffering and trauma that naturally we all supress.
As adults with lives lived, Pennywise is able to dissect much more terror from the Losers. It creates a feeling that the Clown is much more embedded in their lives this time around, as if an echo has followed them for 27 years without any of the Losers really paying attention. This easily enables the relationship between predator and prey to become more personal.
What Chapter Two reminds you, is that no-one can tell a horror story quite like Stephen King. His rhetoric of creepy fear is entwined within every frame of Chapter Two and it works to near perfection. As horror marginally gives way to fantasy elements there is a fear that the movie may lose its way. That is until everything turns so brilliantly and brutally crazy that its impossible not to pay attention; and even better – it works!
With huge material to draw from, Muschietti manages to weave together elements of horror, humanity, love and loss into a solid and purposefully unstable narrative which you can’t help but love and fear all at once. He has managed to craft a story which celebrates friendship, teamwork and with so many lead characters, expertly allows enough spotlight for all involved to shine. Chapter Two is a feat of horror filmmaking which could have easily collapsed on itself, yet instead has built a formidable foundation for the world of Stephen King’s stories to build upon.