The first IT movie is the highest-grossing R-rated horror film with $700.4 million at the worldwide box office. Based on Stephen King’s 1986 novel, the movie became a critical and commercial success. The search for an adult cast to play the main characters- aka “the Losers”- was highly publicized and scrutinized. With a cast evenly divided between marquee stars and unknowns, IT Chapter Two has a lot riding on its shoulders.
Did it succeed in bringing this grand epic to a satisfying conclusion?
Yes and no.
IT Chapter Two has more scares (in part because of its nearly three-hour running time) but they’re different than the first. For one, there is less Pennywise, and instead, IT takes different forms. The different forms are usually grotesque, vaguely-human forms that do gross things. The body horror element freaked me out, but some of the people I went with found it funny, so it just depends on your sense of humor. They’re creative, but not as psychologically disturbing as the first film.
Besides the scares, there’s not much else that this second movie does that’s different than the first. When it comes to the character arcs, plot, and tone of the movie, everything is just about the same. In the first film, we meet the characters individually, then the team comes together, they split up for individual sequences where IT reveal more about their characters, and then they come together in the sewers to try to kill Pennywise. That’s exactly what happens in this film too. Add in all the flashbacks and callbacks to the first film, and this second feels like it’s just an expensive remake with an older cast.
Readers of the book will no doubt be disappointed. The book spends time establishing the Losers in their adult lives, something the film doesn’t have time to do well. The book also develops the theme of the adult Losers losing their memories and having to re-learn about Derry and Pennywise (the film only tangentially explores this theme). By doing this, the reader understands how the Loser’s childhood traumas influenced their adult selves and how that changes their relationship to IT and to each other. To not have that in this second film creates a barrier between the audience and characters, and weakens the message the filmmakers are going for.
Leah Schnelback writes in her excellent review of the film for Tor, “Your real life can turn into a horror story any time—the check didn’t clear, the doctor needs to speak with you in person… You remember again that your carefully constructed life is an illusion that can crack apart without warning. When we go to a horror movie we pay to have this experience…Part of the contract is that the nightmare moments might slip the bounds of reality—that we’ll become children again, in thrall to a fairy tale full of monsters and things that can’t possibly happen. This is what IT is about… The opening half-hour of the film is almost completely taken up with human monsters—psychotic homophobes, abusive husbands… This group of adults who have all experienced real-life horrors have to learn to be kids again so they can defeat a mythological monster.”
That opening half-hour is not enough time to explore these adult lives, and that blunder plagues the entire film. The “real-life horrors” feel inconsequential because we barely get to see them before we get to Pennywise.
It sure doesn’t help also that while the adult cast is incredibly well-matched with their teenage counterparts in terms of looks and mannerisms, they lack the same chemistry as the younger group. This is in part because they don’t spend that much time together in the movie. The plot keeps separating them, making the scenes when they are together and are talking about their close bond ring false.
Also ringing false is the film’s explanations of Pennywise. Instead of letting him be terrifying because he’s mysterious and unknowable, the film tries to explain the mythology behind Pennywise and the demon-alien thing it comes from, the IT. It makes the plot more convoluted and the film fails to justify why we even need to understand his origins in the first place. In some cases it’s okay not to explain “the why”.
IT Chapter Two starts out with a voiceover from Mike talking about how memory is selective and we are often just as much the things we make ourselves forget as we are the things we choose to remember. The whole film ruminates on the idea of memory, with the adult Losers spending the majority of the running time trying to reconnect and remember their childhood selves.
There’s something interesting here about how it takes courage to confront the memories we’d rather forget, and how we aren’t fully ourselves until we can see all of ourselves. It’s only then when we can truly connect to other people. But because we don’t get a sense of how the Losers forgot their childhoods in the first place, or what they do with themselves after they kill Pennywise for good, and they spend little time connecting to each other in meaningful ways, this entire theme falls flat. Instead, we just get some new scares and scenes meant to remind us of the first movie. There’s very little substance.
It seems like the knowledge that the first film was a success is what has kept this film from succeeding. The unassuming innocence of the first is lost, and this second entry feels like it’s trying too hard and won’t stray far enough to be unique.
Yet, I have to admit, I had a great time watching it. It was the perfect escapist adrenaline kick for me with scares that were scary but not too scary, and not disturbing enough to stick with me late at night. But that also means nothing from the film is going to stick with me, and that’s a shame.