A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Andy Muschietti’s follow-up to 2017’s It builds on the strengths of the original yet offers its own special thrills and chills, even though its not without faults. Read on for a spoiler-free discussion of It Chapter Two, followed by a more in-depth discussion for those who’ve already seen the film.
To say that It Chapter Two had nearly impossibly big shoes to fill (obligatory clown pun, straight out the gate) would be an under-statement. Andy Muschietti‘s adaptation of one of Stephen King’s most beloved novel, as well as a cult-favourite TV miniseries from the early ’90s, is the highest-grossing horror movie of all time. Perhaps capitalizing on the ’80s retro obsession unearthed by Netflix’s Stranger Things, Mushietti’s ’80s update on The Loser’s Club resonated with a wide audience, perhaps due to its focus on outcasts and social misfits.
It Chapter Two kicks right off with a bang. Right on schedule, 27 years after The Losers’ Club faced down Pennywise the Clown in the sewers beneath Maine. Like a perennial curse, a reoccurring sickness, a series of grisly murders alerts Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa/adult, Chosen Jacobs/young Mike), the resident historian, that it’s happening again.
Mike Hanlon never left Derry, allowing him to hold onto the memories of those ghastly goings-on nearly 3 decades prior. He remembers the oath they made over a glinting shard of wicked glass and does what he has to do. He reconvenes The Loser’s Club.
The Loser’s Club are all grown up, dissipated into widely different lives. Mike’s phone call summons something in them, some instinctual terror, letting them know that something’s amiss even before reaching Derry’s haunted city limits.
That’s all we’ll say about the goings-on of It Chapter Two before the break; we don’t want to give any spoilers away. Suffice it to say, the adult cast is fantastic, with nearly as much chemistry as their kid counterparts. Bill Hader and James McAvoy both give stand-out performances, as adult Richie Tozier and Bill Denbrough, respectively. Bill Skarsgard is as good as you’d hope he’d be, this second time around. He does creepy like nobody’s business, but ranging outwards into genuine terror this go-around. He’s got his moments of comic levity, as well, as clowns are known to do. Another truly standout performance from one of this generation’s best new horror talents.
Checco Varese’s cinematography is as beautiful as ever, with plenty of grandiose aerial shots of Derry to bask in. It Chapter Two is perhaps a bit CGI-heavy for this reviewer’s liking, but is certainly not a dealbreaker. The heart and hidden emotions more than make up for one-too-many clown mouth shots.
Most critics, thus far, are claiming It Chapter Two is overlong. I don’t agree. I could wander around in Derry for weeks and never get tired of its mysteries. The on-screen chemistry between The Loser’s Club is enough to get lost in for hours, while the sets are detailed enough that repeat viewings are sure to be a blast.
For those going to see It Chapter Two this weekend, i give it a solid 90%, only reserving 10% towards the mathematical possibility of horror perfection. If you’re a fan of the source material, It Chapter One, or the It miniseries from the ’90s, go see this! You’re in for a treat.
For those who’ve seen It Chapter Two already, continue reading for some more detailed discussion of the film, plot, and some atypically personal reflections from a life-time horror lover.
You’d think that updating It by 30 years would cause some discrepancies, some unintentional anachronisms. It does and it doesn’t, luckily and tragically. If you’ve read Stephen King’s novel, you might remember the scene where they’re fishing two bodies out of the Derry canal, speculating that it may have been a hate crime, due to the two men being gay.
It Chapter Two opens with this, as it does the grown-up segment of the novel. Sadly, it’s not much less likely that two gay men would be attacked in a small town in Maine in present times as it was in 1984.
What has changed is our perception of the world. We’ve had decades to develop our sensitivities, opening our minds and broadening our perspectives as widely as possible, thanks in large part to information technology and the interconnected world we’re living in. If you spend much time online, in cities, or in progressive communities, it’s easy to forget these communities are still very much marginalized not only in much of America, but in much of the world.
The sickening thud and crunch of heavy fists on soft flesh peel back those decades of sensitivies, putting us right back in the ’80s, when both the novel and It Chapter One take place.
Homosexuality plays another big part of It Chapter Two‘s plot later on, but we’ll say no more about that. That’s giving too much away.
Homophobia isn’t the only -ism that festers beneath Derry’s surface. Of course racism is an issue, as it is everywhere in America, which is brought to light via Mike Hanlon’s character and history. When Henry Bowers, the town’s resident psycho bogeyman, escapes the mental hospital and attacks Mike in the library, he becomes the archetypal bully, the ur-racist, saying the things that most people just don’t come right out and say. He’s truly a vile, sickening human being, saying things that should never be said. Even though we’ve likely heard them before – and if you’re a POC, you’ve likely had them directed at you, sadly – but it’s truly a shock to hear them uttered plainly. Again, it rips the scab off the years, reminding us that much of society isn’t as evolved as we like to imagine.
It’s a well-known plot point that Pennywise feeds off of people’s fears, often taking the form of their deepest anxieties and insecurities. It’s tactic is simple and effective as any abuser’s – divide, isolate, and conquer.
It’s like Richie says to Eddie at one point during It Chapter Two, “That’s what it wants. Don’t give it to him.”
Probably the biggest departure from the It mini-series, (and i truly can’t remember if it’s in the book or not), is the second act, where each member of The Loser’s Club has to retrieve some item from their post, to burn as offering during The Ritual of Chud. The flashbacks reveal what happened to The Loser’s Club during the summer after facing Pennywise. Each one reveals some fundamental trauma, which must be faced down before they’re able to make Pennywise assume its final form and be able to be defeated.
From the relative safety and distance of adulthood (depending on where yr at in life, when yr reading this), it’s somewhat easy to forget how overwhelming these wounds can be, when we first encounter them. The harsh words, the physical torment, gets lodged in our bones, just waiting to wake up, just like Pennywise.
Watching It Chapter Two takes you back to that child-like state, with all the insecurity, all of the helplessness and powerlessness, when perhaps you thought there was something wrong with you before realizing there’s a whole wide world out there.
Pennywise’s final words, prophetically, are “You’re all grown up,” revealing the story to be a truly dark, evil coming-of-age story, about overcoming yr demons and becoming whole. It is telling that the film’s final words, via Mike Hanlon’s voiceover, are “You’ll always be a loser.”
To some, that might sound like a downer of an ending, akin to some genetic curse from which there is no escape. Yet, for those of us who were misfits and outcasts, the fat kids and nerds and dweebs (i was all 3, just in case you were wondering,) the poor kids, the immigrants, anyone who was Other in homogenous white America (most likely other countries as well, but i can only speak to my personal experience), they radiate a certain comfort, almost a pride. Those words transport us to a time when our friends were everything, when it was “us against the world,” but you seemed unstoppable. They take you back to the summers of your childhood and adolescence, when life seemed full of endless possibilities.
When you conquer your demons, those endless possibilities return. You can live a life without fear. Finally, you’re all grown up.
Watching It Chapter Two proved to be a surprisingly emotional experience that i was not fully prepared for. I’ve spent a good portion of my life with this story, enthralled with the characters, the mysteries, and the buried darkness for the last 28 years. I had my own version of The Loser’s Club, growing up, although we were a bit older – a clan of drug-addled goth/punk/raver/hippies frying our minds and blowing out our souls with powerful psychedelics and a steady diet of bad weed and cheap booze. We were bonded as tight as any blood oath.
Yet, you don’t always remember those close childhood relationships when you’re old. Watching the young Losers on screen flashed me back to the summers and autumns of my own childhood and adolescence, all of the promises made, the closeness, the camraderie. I’ve kept up my share of the promises, i’m proud to report. What i was not prepared for were the heavy losses that would be sustained along the way, the pain and loneliness i would have to endure to keep that soul alive, to keep the magick burning.
Suddenly, all the names came pouring back, all of those that have been lost to madness, sickness, drugs, depression. To this day, some of my dear friends are as riddled with pain, fear, guilt, anxiety, paranoia, and despair as any survivor of Derry. We’re out here, in our basements and cheap apartments and shared housing. Some of us are happy. Many of us are not.
So, let It Chapter Two serve as a battle cry for those of us still standing. Or kneeling. Or crawling. Mike Hanlon says it best, near the film’s conclusion, “To live. To stand. To fight.” Let us never stop fighting. Let us find our demons. And slay.
It Chapter Two is in theaters now!
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