Written by Andrew Busch // Edited by Drew Beyer // Header Image from Warner Bros.
Andy Muschietti’s IT Chapter Two (2019) begins with a simple premise that hurls us back into Stephen King’s twisted universe. When a gruesome attack occurs outside of the Derry summer carnival, it becomes clear that the horror the Losers’ Club swore to destroy in their youth has returned to plague their hometown. IT Chapter Two returns to Derry twenty-seven years after the events of IT (2017) in an attempt to raise the stakes and heighten the horror of the first chapter. The film packs tons of scares into its two hour and forty nine minute runtime, but not all of the scares are effective and the plot that connects them is thin. As Chapter Two ratchets up the scale of the horror it loses sight of the intimate character moments and subtlety that made the first so memorable. Despite some enjoyable moments, IT Chapter Two feels like a jumble of horror elements instead of a complete experience.
One of the strongest elements of IT is the core cast of characters and their undeniable chemistry. IT Chapter Two retains some of this spark through Eddie (James Ransone) and Richie (Bill Hader), though the youthful energy and crude jokes have been replaced by something more serious. This shift in tone differentiates Chapter Two from the first film, as Chapter Two makes an effort to develop its characters and show how they have changed through the passage of time.The film displays the major life transitions for each of the Losers after the credits rolled on the first film. Ben (Jay Ryan) has changed from the shy, new kid to a successful and confident real estate mogul. Bill (James McAvoy) is a writer whose work is being adapted into Hollywood films, making him a stand-in for King himself. However, Chapter Two abandons this character focus after the first act, prioritizing scary clown jump scares over intimate character beats. This choice is frustrating because the beginning adds depth to the characters by exploring their individual memories of their traumas. It is astounding that a movie this long contains so little character development after the opening thirty minutes.
The story structure also weakens Chapter Two. While the film makes an ambitious attempt to have seven characters share the screen, the solo scenes from the different characters end up feeling repetitive in the second and third acts. In most cases, these scenes all boil down to encounters with Pennywise in another form. These moments effectively build suspense and stunning horror imagery, but they get exhausting when presented back-to-back-to-back. Plus, the scenes start to fall into a clear pattern. The character visits a place from their past, encounters Pennywise, finds their item and happens to escape by the skin of their teeth. This formulaic structure reduces the impact of the film’s attempts at tension and horror.
While the film misses the mark as a blockbuster horror epic, the score elevates its scenes and improves to the original sounds of IT. Benjamin Wallfisch returns from the first film and Bladerunner 2049, providing the film with a hulking 45 track, hour and forty-five minute album of frightening music. Wallfisch’s ability to create variation without sacrificing cohesion strengthens the album. From the quiet, ominous piano ballads on “Losers Reunited” to the grating, nauseating swells of string instruments and horns on “Spider Attack”, the songs on Chapter Two’s soundtrack each sound unique while sharing musical elements that contribute to the overall cohesion of the score and develop a distinct aural aesthetic for the world. For example, the ominous piano melody and somber string progression on “Come Home” is similar to “27 Years Later”. The song draws the listener into its eerie production with its twinges of hope fluttering in the background, only to tear down the facade of safety and devolve into a menacing warble of swelling strings and distorted screaming. Rather than have two similar eerie tracks, Wallfisch goes an extra step to give each their own sonic identity.
The same can be said for the more intense tracks, as a song like “Miss Me Richie?” features booming percussion, grating violins, and chimes while “Home At Last” blends a similar string arrangement with horns and electronic elements to create a buzzing swarm of instruments that pull back for just a moment before hitting like a ten-ton truck. Even though the film’s story structure features repetitive elements, Wallsfisch’s soundtrack remains inventive throughout. The score elevates the film’s scares and is one element where the film achieves its epic ambitions.
A good score, character development and a solid story structure are all important elements that compose a strong film. But everyone knows that the core of any work of horror is the answer to the question: “Is it scary?” It is hard to pin down an answer for IT Chapter Two, as there are some genuinely creepy moments alongside scares that just don’t land. For example, there is a scene where a little girl encounters Pennywise while following a firefly. Every word Pennywise delivers from the shadows heightens the tension, establishing a slow and quiet sense of dread before exploding into an effective conclusion. In the interest of not spoiling the good scares in the film, suffice to say that there are scenes that will stick with you after the credits roll. However, not all of the scenes work. Sometimes there’s confusion about the tone, as the film cannot decide if some scenes are played straight or for laughs. For instance, there’s a moment where a giant, dilapidated statue of Paul Bunyan chases Richie (Bill Hader) that is hard to take seriously. Regardless of the film’s intentions, the real takeaway is that some of these scenes could have been cut to both decrease the runtime and highlight the genuinely good scares that are peppered throughout.
IT Chapter Two is an ambitious attempt to translate over a thousand pages of King’s revered novel to the big screen. At its best, the work captures the essence of King’s characters and features some imaginative scares set to an epic score. And at its worst, it struggles with character development, story structure and some ineffective scenes. Muschetti’s desire to stay as true to the text as possible causes him to slightly lose sight of the things that made his first film such a success. Despite these pitfalls, IT Chapter Two still features enough of the wild horror moments and youthful spirit of Muschetti’s first film. While it might not be perfectly constructed, Chapter Two is an enjoyable return to a small town where an evil clown is less terrifying than your memories of growing up.
IT Chapter Two is out now in theaters.