Set 27 years after the Losers took on Pennywise the Clown, It: Chapter Two places character at the forefront of a film which acts as an extended meditation on childhood trauma. Though the group may have physically escaped Derry, the emotional linkages are brought into sharp relief when Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) – the only member to stay in the town – begs them to fulfil the oath made at the close of Chapter One.
The Losers return, with varying degrees of reluctance, and find their past horrors seeping into the present. By making explicit, causal links between the past and the now, the film highlights the skill of the ‘grown-up’ ensemble, who continue the work of their younger counterparts deftly.
In particular, Bill Hader’s Richie (previously played by Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard), is the main draw here. Acting as a reliable comedic crutch, but with a growing emotive arc, Hader brilliantly lets pathos creep into his actions. Alongside him, James McAvoy powerfully captures how an older Bill almost regresses when faced with the trauma of Pennywise. The pair are highlights among an excellent ensemble cast, all of which are given a chance to showcase their talents as the film progresses. Indeed, in one of the film’s lighter arcs, the blooming love between Bev (Jessica Chastain) and Ben (Jay Ryan) is delicately played.
The result of this emphasis on character is that the sophomore outing benefits from an acute emotional intelligence, one which makes full use of a metaphor-laden script. Pennywise is described as an ‘echo’, while the circles of memory which are constructed reflect a psychological butterfly effect. Indeed, though physical scars may begin to heal, the main focus is on the emotional ones which have rippled through the adult Losers’ lives.
This layering gives the film a superb depth, even if its second act threatens to blunt the emotional incision. As each character goes in search of their own ‘artefacts’, the film begins to feel predictable, with each encounter following a similar beat. In a film in which the effect of the horror elements grows cumulatively, it gives the audience something of a breather. This being said, there are some chilling set pieces. Bill’s trip to a hall of mirrors in particular is excellently realised.
With a run time of nearly 3 hours, Director Andy Muschietti does a good job of maintaining the film’s momentum. Though there could perhaps be time saved in the middle act, the film feels remarkably lean. Only the return of a certain former bully feels unnecessary, with the majority of the run time focused on getting beneath the skin – and into the minds – of the Losers.
What’s more, despite the narrative similarities to Chapter One, the second chapter powerfully cleaves its own identity. More concerned with consequences than actions, it does an excellent job of making the story, and its characters, emotionally complex. Tellingly, and in another metaphorical tryst, as the group descend deeper and deeper into Derry, the suggestion is that they are, in turn, delving deeper into their subconscious.
It: Chapter Two is always reaching for emotional resonance and in the main it finds it. As the heroes return to Derry they find themselves yearning for a sense of closure which they never, entirely, thought they needed. In truth, the gamut of issues (parental, body, control and more) provide enough emotional damage for a story, even without the excellent Bill Skarsgård parading in his clownery. Though threatened with being a bleak watch, the film is more often the reverse. Funny and at times gripping, It: Chapter Two’s central message is an empowering one: Don’t be afraid.