Photo credit: Press
I’m not a big fan of the first ‘IT’ film. The 2017 remake directed by Andy Muschietti and based on the best-selling novel by Stephen King, promised a darker, more frightening take on the tale of the Losers and their battle with ‘that f*cking clown’ known as Pennywise. And whilst it was definitely darker than the original 1990 TV miniseries, it wasn’t exactly frightening. In fact, at times, it occasionally verged on being quite the opposite. The main reason for this was that Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise was never established as a credible threat. His almost animalistic approach to playing the psychotic monster came across as being more goofy than terrifying and his constant need to just flat-out mess with the primary cast was reminiscent of an old Saturday morning Scooby-Doo villain stealing Velma’s glasses.
You can imagine then; how happy I was to discover that ‘IT: Chapter 2’ absolutely nails the character of Pennywise. And so, so much more.
The story picks up 27 years after the events of the last film. The Losers, who once stood together in the sewers under Derry to defeat the shapeshifting entity known as IT, are now all grown up and leading their own adult lives. Some of these lives, we soon find out, are more fortunate than others. Meanwhile, people are beginning to go missing in Derry again and a certain scary clown is back for revenge.
The first thing to note about ‘IT: Chapter 2’ is the absolutely stellar casting choices made for the adult versions of the Losers. Every single one of the new cast are exactly how you would imagine the younger movie versions of themselves to look 20 years down the line, all the way from their mannerisms to the way they move. If you were to tell me that Sophia Lillis, who plays young Beverley Marsh, one day turns into Jessica Chastain then I would 100% believe you. It’s that good. Various sources have stated that the older cast members actually undertook a speed dating exercise with their younger counterparts prior to filming to find out everything there was to know about their characters. Who ever said speed dating was a waste of time?
Stand-out performances come from James McAvoy as Bill Denbrough and Bill Hader as Richie ‘Trashmouth’ Tozier. McAvoy plays the leader of the Loser’s Club like a man who is weighted down by feelings of failure and who is eagerly seeking any opportunity for redemption. We see that as he has aged, his character has replaced his fear of killer clowns with a fear of letting other children befall the same fate as his brother Georgie. Meanwhile Bill Hader, who rose to fame through appearances on ‘SNL’, steals the show as the film’s talkative comic relief. Hader expertly balances childish humour with surprisingly emotional moments, especially towards the final act of the movie. There is a particularly hilarious scene involving Hader that takes place after the gang are harassed by Pennywise in a Chinese restaurant which left the screening that I was in bent over in stitches. And that’s quite an unusual thing to say when you’re reviewing a horror film…
This is largely down to the tone of this movie which, for the most part, is damn-near perfect. ‘IT: Chapter 2’ is a masterclass in how to blend comedy, horror and romance without ever seeming jarring or out of place. When the movie wants you to be scared, there is rarely a gag in sight and when it wants to add levity to a situation it throws in a quip from Richie Tozier who, as the previous film already established, is a bit of a joker. These decisions make sense within the context of the story and therefore never stand out or feel unwelcome. At no point did I ever experience any ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ flashbacks where tonal inconsistencies were rife and painfully apparent. Cracking jokes during a deadly serious end-of-world-apocalypse anyone?
Let’s move on now to the clown in the room; Pennywise 2.0. So called because this Pennywise isn’t the Pennywise we knew from the first film. In this film, he’s more terrifying. Way more terrifying. And a lot more dangerous. Bill Skarsgard has thankfully dropped the weird, other-worldly persona that he used in the first movie in favour of a more human-like personality. This allows him to have longer, more meaningful interactions with the Losers this time around as opposed to just doing his usual ‘drool and creepy stare’ act. This new approach also helps in fleshing IT out as a character as we see that the creature has clearly developed a sort of personal vendetta against the Losers and now has feelings of ill will for every single one of them (well, more so than last time anyway).
Unlike in the first film, when Pennywise was a mostly passive predator (often waiting for his victims to stumble into his clutches), he now actively goes out of his way to get at the Losers, both mentally and physically. There is one incident when he actually baits Bill Denbrough by threatening to dispose of a young child that has moved into Bill’s old home, showing that he is capable of a level of mind-f*ckery and strategic thinking that first-movie Pennywise would never even have been able to swallow. IT also gets to flex its shapeshifting muscles to a greater degree in this instalment, often manifesting itself into the deepest, darkest fears of the Losers. One incident even sees it taking on the form of a large Paul Bunyan statue to scare the living sh*t out of Richie.
Whilst ‘IT: Chapter 2’ includes many appearances of the cosmic clown, none are more gut wrenching and vicious than one particular scene involving Pennywise and a little girl under the stands of a night-time baseball game. The scene is harrowing from start to finish as you know that, as the little girl isn’t a main character, her only clear purpose is to be used as clown-fodder. Skarsgard ramps up the manipulation and cunning and helps to deliver a sequence that rivals, if not surpasses, the iconic Georgie drain sequence in every way.
There are also a few unexpected, but very welcome guest appearances in the final instalment. The first and most obvious is from the King himself. The master of horror plays a less than pleasant store owner that ends up selling Bill’s old bike, Silver, back to him. It’s not the most jarring cameo I’ve ever seen (I’m looking at you Ed), and it’s a nice nod to the man responsible for creating these messed up stories. The next cameo is harder to spot but during the scene when young Eddie Kaspbrak visits the pharmacy to collect his medicine, you can just about make out the director, Andy Muschietti, browsing the aisles behind him. I suppose he deserves his five seconds of fame.
There isn’t much to fault about ‘IT: Chapter 2’. Bar the final confrontation, which seems to go on for an eternity, the pacing is solid throughout most of the film. Muschietti isn’t afraid to slow things down for the more poignant, emotional moments and this is especially apparent towards the end. The manner in which the director also rounds up all of the Loser’s stories is very satisfying and you really get the sense that they have come a long way since childhood. This is, after all, a coming of age story at its heart.
‘IT: Chapter 2’ supersedes its predecessor in every way and is a fitting conclusion to King’s iconic story. It presents the titular monster as the terrifying and manipulative entity that it was meant to be and dials up on the scares as a result.