We’re right in the middle of a Stephen King adaptation renaissance, and no crown jewel is brighter than It. The first movie was a legitimate surprise hit, racking up $700 million worldwide on its way to becoming the biggest R-rated horror movie of all time (as well as the biggest horror movie, period). This year’s follow-up is one of the most anticipated of 2019.
Twenty-seven years after the events of the original, the grown-up Losers Club return to Derry, Maine to take on the interdimensional entity they know only as Pennywise the Dancing Clown once and for all. At first, their memories are foggy – people who move away from Derry have a weird way of forgetting the town and their time there. But as the adult Losers return home, so do their memories, and childhood nostalgia mixes with the fears of adulthood. And Pennywise is as malevolent as ever.
With the first movie being a genuine cultural phenomenon, does its follow-up live up to the hype? It’s hard to top the first, but is it a worthy successor to end the story? Here are three reasons to see It Chapter Two when it hits theaters this weekend.
1. There Are Some Genuinely Excellent Horror Sequences
One of the most solid elements of the first movie was the scares. Not content to have the usual jump scares (although the movie did utilize them), it got creative with its horror. The sequel blessedly does not veer away from that formula and, instead, leans even further into it. Pennywise isn’t your typical haunt; as an interdimensional entity, he’s able to mess with the Losers Club in ways both subtle and overt. There is plenty of body horror for the Losers. One of them suffers gouges from an invisible knife at one point; there is, of course, the already-famous scene of Beverly drowning in a sea of blood.
But the best use of body horror is with Pennywise himself. Clowns on their own are terrifying, but Pennywise somehow blurs at the edges. He skitters and his limbs contort in inhuman ways that serve to remind you he is so much less than human, less, even, than the human mind can fully comprehend. Whether it’s a grotesquely over-long tongue slavering on a funhouse mirror, or his jaw lengthening and growing wider than is humanly possible as it suddenly sprouts a murder of razor-sharp teeth, Pennywise constantly reminds you that he is something other. As such, it allows the horror sequences to get visually creative in ways few horror movies are able, with their common haunts and humanoid monsters generally bound by the laws of physics. Not so Pennywise. He’ll scare you in ways you don’t, can’t, expect.
2. The Excellent Chemistry Between The Cast
The first movie was the hit it was because of the chemistry between the young Losers Club actors. Sophia Lillis was arguably its breakout star, but the rest of them more than held their own. The cast had the sort of easy chemistry that exists between kids before growing up gets in the way. Naturally, they are just as charming and fun in the sequel’s flashback scenes.
But the real question was whether or not the adult Losers Club cast members could live up to the precedent of chemistry set by the younger actors. To that end, the answer is “yes.” Well…mostly. As adult Ben and adult Mike, respectively, Jay Ryan and Isaiah Mustafa are just fine on their own. The problem is when you put them across from A-listers like James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, and Bill Hader that their star fades a bit; they don’t always seem to pop on the screen in the same way. Of the journeyman actors, however, James Ransone kills it as adult Eddie. Out of all of the Losers, Ransone is the closest match to his younger counterpart, both in looks and mannerisms – he has Eddie’s twitchy neuroses and irritability down to a detail and it elicits some of the biggest laughs of the movie. Bill Hader, of course, is Bill Hader. There may be some who think Richie’s motormouth comes at inopportune times when a scene should be played straightforward and seriously instead of dropping a joke. But that’s who Richie is in the books, and Hader plays him to perfection. McAvoy nails Bill’s resurrected stutter (save for one scene in which it accidentally drops – tell me later if you catch the scene) and Chastain has all of Bev’s feistiness, even if she’s not given as much to work with. The adult Losers don’t quite have the effortless charm of the kids, but that’s to be expected. They’re still pretty great on their own.
3. It’s As Much An Exploration Of Nostalgia As It Is Horror
In so many ways, It is not a straightforward horror story. Not in its scares, not in its structure, and certainly not in all the layers it possesses. Like so much of Stephen King’s writing, It is about a monster on the surface, but really about how we lose things dear to us as we grow up. That’s what makes it so effective. It’s not just that the adult Losers are running around in the sewers underneath Derry and fighting a murderous clown; it’s that they’re also wrestling with their childhood memories – both good and bad – and the fact that those memories, once clear and sharp as broken glass, have faded so much. If Pennywise represents fear, then he also represents the passage of time, a reminder that everything changes. Things get lost. Stories end. Nothing stays the same. The horror is real and present, but the existential dread of simply existing is there, too, and that makes it all the more layered and nuanced. Most horror movies aren’t a reflection on adulthood and loss, but It is, and that’s what makes it resonate so well.
All in all, the sequel may not be as strong or as tightly woven as the first movie. It has some of the problems with pacing that the book itself does, and it could have probably shaved off about 15-20 minutes. But as a follow-up to a first movie that was nearly impossible to top, it’s excellent, a more than fitting close to what might be one of the best Stephen King adaptations we’ve ever had.
It Chapter Two is in theaters on Friday, September 6 with preview night on Thursday.