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In an age defined by an exhausting number of horror sequels, reboots and adaptations, Andrés Muschietti’s “It” (2017) garnered mainstream publicity both prior to and during its theatrical release falling into that trend. Well, that and the fact that it stars a demonic entity that primarily takes the form of a 1950s circus clown (Bill Skarsgård). That probably helped too.
But, simply put, Muschietti’s own take on Stephen King’s original novel was not only unique when placed next to Tommy Lee Wallace’s 1990 miniseries of the same name, but it did what the latter should have done all along: focus on the kids and save the adults for later. Now, in this second chapter, it’s time for the adult translations of these characters to get their opportunity to shine in front of the camera.
Set 27 years after the events of the first film, the Losers Club of Derry, Maine have now grown up. Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy) now works as a horror author and screenwriter who constantly fails to write good endings to his stories. Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone) found a successful career with an insurance company, though he still has anxiety about his medications. Richie Tozier (Bill Hader) is making a living as a stand-up comedian and is still as immature and foul-mouthed as he was before. Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain) is a fashion designer forced to come home every day to an abusive husband. Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan) is no longer the fat kid of the group and has become an architect. Stanley Uris (Andy Bean) now works for an accounting firm.
Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), however, is the only one who decided to stay behind in Derry. Upon discovering that “It” has returned after more than two decades of absence, he calls each member back to their hometown so that they can face their fears again and finally vanquish this force of evil by performing the mysterious “Ritual of Chüd.” And if that mention of King’s questionable mythology seems a little tacked on, that’s because, from a narrative standpoint, it certainly feels that way.
With a lengthy runtime of 2 hours and 50 minutes, “Chapter Two” finds itself constantly looking for filler to pad out an otherwise straightforward endgame. Muschietti constantly transitions to flashbacks involving the Losers Club’s younger counterparts, complete with somewhat distracting de-aging effects, solely for the purpose of retconning what we know about their identities.
Speaking of those identities, what helps carry most of these scenes is undoubtedly the chemistry of this cast. Hader and Ransone are the standouts here. Each actor, though, not only does the best possible job they could with embodying the personas of these characters, but also gives us a sense of satisfaction whenever they’re on screen together.
Not to mention, fear itself is subjective. Some viewers, especially those of the young adult demographic, will appreciate Muschietti’s use of the jump scares. Some will even tolerate the downright outlandish climax during the third act. In many ways, this almost-bonkers but incredibly Stephen King style of both horror and comedy ends up working against our investment in these characters. That somewhat self-aware yet still serious tone that was present in the previous film has practically been traded in for something right out of King’s fever dreams, right down to a rather on-the-nose cameo from King himself.
The two child characters (one introduced during the first act and the other during the second) struggle to find a reason to be here, other than just to reiterate that Pennywise has returned. Psychotic bully Henry Bowers (now played by Teach Grant) even finds his way to the Losers’ Club after escaping from a mental hospital, and with only around six minutes of screen time, his presence seemed completely unnecessary in the grand scheme of the story.
By the time Muschietti decides to close the film on a rather uplifting note with all loose ends (supposedly) tied up, the only thought that comes to mind is a feeling of frustration. It’s a storybook ending that leaves you feeling unfulfilled, and while this has always been a common criticism of King’s literary work, here’s some advice about adaptations: You can take creative liberties when necessary. If something didn’t work in the novel, then change it for the film. As it currently stands, “Chapter Two” tries to do so much that its pacing is stretched to the point where a good 30 minutes or so could have easily been cut, yet weirdly enough, it seems to only scratch the surface of what it’s trying to explore. There’s definitely a gray area somewhere; it’s just that Muschietti clearly couldn’t find it in time.