Film & TV

‘IT Chapter Two’ Brings a Terrifying Conclusion to the Stephen King Franchise

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With “IT Chapter Two,” director Andy Muschietti (“It,” “Mama”) evokes the grotesque mix of emotions only one’s hometown can inspire, resulting in a conclusion film that’s weirder, longer and impressively bloodier than its first chapter.

Based on Stephen King’s infamous 1986 novel “IT,” the second half of Muschietti’s adaptation changes the time period, but not much else.

It’s been 27 years since monstrous clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) preyed on the children of fictional town Derry, Maine in 2017’s “IT.”

The members of the Losers Club who fought It have gone their separate ways, but only one remembers the events of the summer of 1989: Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), who never left Derry.

When police report a series of mutilated bodies in Derry, Mike calls each member of the club to remind them of their oath: if It ever comes back, the Losers will too.

“IT Chapter Two” balances its ensemble even better than the first film. The Losers do come back, but they’re not close friends like they were in 1989. They don’t know each other like they used to, and Mike almost loses the group before he’s able to convince Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy) his plan to kill Pennywise will work. With Bill’s leadership, the group reluctantly assembles once more.

The ensemble’s performances round into shape as the characters refresh their memories together. Sitting at a Chinese food restaurant early in the film, the Losers slowly begin to remember why they were childhood best friends.

Richie Tozier (Bill Hader) is still a loudmouth and Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone) has gotten more neurotic with age. Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain) is still courageous despite navigating an abusive relationship with her husband (Will Beinbrink). Stanley Uris (Andy Bean) might not remember the events leading up to it, but he never forgot his oath with the Losers.

Bill assumes his natural role as the group’s leader, Mike guides the group through his plan to kill It and Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan) is still mild-mannered and in love with Beverly.

The whole cast does phenomenal work with a broadly varied script by Gary Dauberman that transitions from horror-comedy to melodrama to cosmic nightmare in the blink of an eye. Still, Hader (“Barry,” “Trainwreck”), Skarsgård (“Atomic Blonde,” “Assassination Nation”) and Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty,” “Molly’s Game”) give the most intricate performances.

Hader’s Richie plays confident and quick-witted, but he doesn’t manage to completely cover up the insecure kid he’s pretending not to be anymore.

Chastain’s Beverly starts as a closed book. Returning to Derry helps her break free of her toxic marriage, but forces her to confront her father’s past abuse.

Chastain’s performance indulges in the shrouded joy of newly remembered childhood memories, but it’s when Beverly’s repressed trauma starts floating to the surface that Chastain begins to elevate the material.

Skarsgård’s Pennywise is still a sarcastic, exuberant child-eater, but the film pulls back the layers on the creature’s animalistic motivation. Pennywise is still laughing, dancing and pranking its victims, but this time it’s clear that Pennywise’s act is a hunting strategy, not a comedy routine. It hunts for one reason: cavernous, consuming hunger.

It’s a small miracle that Skarsgård can communicate these layers implicitly, under heavy prosthetics. Pennywise is not human, and Skarsgård doesn’t try to make It one. He brings just enough humanity to the performance that it’s completely jarring every time Pennywise swallows another child whole.

King’s “IT” is 1,138 pages long, which justifies Muschietti’s two-part adaptation spanning over 5 hours. “Chapter Two” is 2 hours and 49 minutes long, but Muschietti uses the length to incorporate an impressive amount of King’s source material. The film’s tension escalates frantically, and there’s not a wasted second of the film’s generous runtime.

It’s clear through the film’s iconography and thematic reach Muschietti understands the appeal of King’s novel, and isn’t afraid to get weird with his adaptation. Certain aspects of the novel’s more abstract supernatural elements are omitted, but the creature design, camera movement, color palette and sense of humor are all delightfully macabre for a blockbuster film.

“IT Chapter Two” primarily achieves its horror by physically manifesting the anxieties the Losers Club tried to leave in Derry. Pennywise knows about Ben’s self-esteem issues and Beverly’s abusive father. It knows Bill blames himself for his brother’s murder. Muschietti knows the Losers’ story can only end one way: by making the group’s fight against Pennywise a simultaneous reckoning with their pasts.

“IT Chapter Two,” rated R, is playing in theaters nationwide.

 

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