Too much Scary Movie, not enough scary movie.
27 years following the events of 2017’s It, the Losers’ Club find themselves forced to reunite as adults to confront the demonic clown Pennywise once again. This sequel serves as an adaptation of the other half of Stephen King’s book, originally released in 1986, which was the only logical outcome after the overwhelming success of the first film. Director Andy Muschietti returns to take on the second chapter with a sense of adventure, humour and an excellent eye for casting – even when it comes to a few cheeky cameos. Benjamin Wallfisch is on score duties again, too. His work creates a smooth balance between the different tones, able to both drum up suspense and lean into the briskier sections of the plot. The production design and cinematography are excellent, riding the line between nostalgia and modernity. Where It Chapter Two fundamentally falls down, however, is in its inability to fulfil its primary purpose: it’s just not very scary.
This isn’t to fault the performances. Bill Skarsgård portrayal of Pennywise is masterly creepy in facial expression and eye movement. You believe him as a possessor of infinite darkness, even when we get a brief glance of his ‘human’ form. There’s no problem in keeping our attention either; between the prior attachment to the Losers and an incessant alertness to the next inevitable appearance of Pennywise or one of his other nasty manifestations, Muschietti keeps us engaged throughout despite a near 3-hour runtime.
Yet, whilst the characters have grown up, It Chapter Two hasn’t matured from the original’s Goonies vibe – there’s too much humour and not enough horror. When the jokes break up the tension too much, the stakes become less important. One such shoehorned bit of comedy sees Juice Newton’s ‘Angel of the Morning’ momentarily blared out when adult Eddie (James Ransone) is thrown up on in slow motion. It comes off as tone-deaf and cringeworthy.
There is a humanity to the film, explored through the (re)connections between the Losers, juxtaposed effectively with Pennywise exploiting the greater characteristics of ordinary people. Empathy, mainly. But this balance is slightly off-kilter. Pennywise is less of a luring presence in It Chapter Two than he was the first film, less imposing overall. The source novel is underutilised, with opportunities missed to emphasise the ubiquitous, malevolent manipulation that takes place in Derry by omitting or shortening the subplots of tertiary characters featured in the book.
The Lovecraftian elements are admirably mythologised, though Muschietti skimps on how truly weird and dark King can get. There’s clear entertainment value, but fear diminishes over the course of the lengthy duration. It feels like what it is: a commercialised vision of King’s original work that makes it more digestible for the average audience. It’s worth a watch, and the cast gives their all. But, in the scare department, if you’re expecting anything more than a bunch of ‘gore’ scenes – which have a treacly effect akin to being drenched by a water balloon full of fake blood – or something that leaves you feeling properly terrified, look elsewhere.
It Chapter Two (2019), directed by Andy Muschietti, is distributed in the UK by Warner Bros., certificate 15.