There is always a temptation to prepare for a movie sequel, or in the case of It Chapter Two a continuation, to watch the last film in the franchise and refresh your memory of what happened before.
Part of the thrill of watching It Chapter Two is experiencing the way director Andy Muschietti (It) weaves together past and present, memory and history to complete the story of The Losers Club and their epic battle against the murderous sewer-dwelling clown called Pennywise. A crucial part of the second chapter of the story is that most of the lead characters have no memory of what happened to them as children. With the exception of Mike Hanlon (Isiah Mustafa) they all moved away and their memory of the horrors they experienced faded with each mile they traveled. Because Mike stayed, however, he remembers it all, or at least enough of the past to realize that a new wave of body parts washing out of the town sewer means only one thing: Pennywise has returned and The Losers Club has to reunite to fight him once again.
So Mike puts out the call and we watch as the news of Pennywise’s return hits each of the now-grown Losers like a vicious punch to the gut. The degree of terror each experience as their memory kickstarts is palpable, but the bond they made 27 years ago, symbolized by the scar they carry in the palm of their hands from a blood oath made as children, is stronger and so they reluctantly, fearfully do what they have to do.
What follows is a slow burn of tension and terror compared to the roller coaster of horror audiences remember from the first It, which is probably another good reason for not watching It again before seeing It Chapter Two. There are plenty of scares in the second film, and tons of gruesome gore, but there is more story, too, and Muschietti wisely takes his time to make his intricate intertwining of the characters’ tales come together. You watch James McAvoy as Bill Dembrough and admire the way his performance captures the essence of what you remember of the way Jaeden Martell played him in the original. Then young Bill starts playing a key role in It Chapter Two, and there are suddenly scenes from the past that you feel in your gut were not in the first movie, scenes that support or change the movie you are watching in subtle, and not so subtle ways. The same dynamic changes start to come alive in all The Losers Club members as the present/past of Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain/Sophia Lillis), Richie Tozier (Bill Hader/Finn Wolfhard) and the others play out before you. Soon you realize (although you may not admit it until long after the lights have come on) that the drama of It Chapter Two is just as breathtaking as what happens when Pennywise attacks.
And here’s the best part: Muschetti uses the same brilliant technique and uses it on the killer clown, too. Granted, it’s not done to the same degree as it is with The Losers Club, but It Chapter Two gives us just enough insight into the creature beneath the make-up to make him more than a red balloon carrying murder machine. There is even a moment where we literally get to see him without makeup which almost humanizes Pennywise enough to make us think there may be more to him than we’ve seen so far and Bill Skarsgård plays it brilliantly. Of course, once he starts to drool, slap on the clown makeup and flash his multiple rows of shark sharp teeth at us the moment is lost as the terror returns, but for that moment…
And after the shock of the clown’s return in that scene goes away, and you finish laughing at yourself for being played so well by the director, take a moment to reflect on just how brilliantly Muschetti uses humor in the movie as a way to set you up to be scared. Giving the role of the adult Richie Tozier, the foul-mouth funny guy from the first movie to a comic actor like Bill Hader is the perfect example, especially since Richie grows up to be a stand up comic. The tenser the situation, the funnier the adult Tozier gets; even when he tries to stop himself from being inappropriate he can’t help himself. So when the story gets to the stage where even Richie Tozier can’t think of anything funny to say, you know things are going to get very bad very quickly. And Hader plays it flawlessly.
The script, written by Gary Dauberman based on the Stephen King bestseller, is also filled with a ton of horror movie in-jokes, many of which happen so quickly, and in such horror-filled moments of the movie, that you may not catch them at first. A monstrous Pennywise, morphing into the faces of all the people who have ever hurt Beverly while trying to break down the bathroom door that she is blockaded behind takes the time to say, “Here’s Johnny” in tribute to Jack Nicholson and The Shining. It’s a bit hokey, but still brings a smile to your lips when you hear it. Watching the stall then flood with a river of dark crimson blood like the elevators in the Kubrick movie makes genre fans you smile in a whole other way.
As does the sweet cameo appearance by the man who started all this, the author Stephen King. It’s both a nod to the fans who have loved Pennywise and The Losers Club since he first unleashed them back in 1986 and an endorsement by their creator that Muschietti’s movies, both It and It Chapter Two, have his stamp of approval.
Who could ask for anything more?
- John Black, It: Chapter 2