Director Andy Muscheitti and writer Gary Duaberman have found the ultimate balance in telling a horror story that’s primarily about the concept of fear and its tremendous and long-lasting effects. It was a decent movie, bloated in most places and built upon the youthful pains and joy of its child characters. However, while It Chapter Two is just as bloated and unnecessarily long as its predecessor, there’s much more nuance in its exploration of the ways in which adulthood can been impacted by childhood trauma and the psychology of fear. The fear of being, the fear of being who your memories have forgotten you were, the fear of blame and so much more.
Set 27 years after the first film, It Chapter Two has grown up just like its characters have. Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) is back and with him returns terror and murder to the small town of Derry. Called back to the place they left years ago, the Losers must face their own fears and find a way to take down the creature that’s haunted them for decades before It starts killing more children.
It Chapter Two leaves you with an uneasy feeling as the characters wade their way through repressed memories and trauma. One of the things that stands out the most is the film’s perspective on memory and what we choose to remember as adults. Do we recall who we actually were or the things we wanted to be? What is it that we choose to remember versus what we choose to repress? Is the memory of fear greater than the fear itself? There are so many layers that the film delves into. Chapter Two’s runtime is so incredibly long, though, that it asks the audience to wait patiently before it gets to its semi anticlimactic end. While some may have wanted a lot more of the horror aspects, the film’s strengths lie in the effects of that horror. It Chapter Two thankfully ditches a lot of the excess humor of its predecessor (not that there isn’t any and when it the comedic beats land, they work), and understands that the adult versions of the characters are twice as interesting as their child counterparts.
However, an example of how the film glosses over some of its characters is most apparent in the way it mishandles Isaiah Mustafa’s Mike. The man who decided to stay in Derry, haunted by the ever-present shadow of Pennywise’s return is also the character who gets the least screentime. His fear is barely explored and when the film touches upon some of his trauma, it comes in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment that plays out as more of an afterthought. The film also completely ignores race as a factor in the ’80s.
There’s only a hint that Mike is stared at as a kid because he’s Black and the film refuses to explore his backstory and fear the way it does the other characters. His individual journey is practically nonexistent and it’s incredibly noticeable, especially since he is largely there to explain how to kill Pennywise while the others get to grow as individuals. How did staying behind in Derry affect Mike? Why did he never decide to move to Florida like he said he would? All these questions remain unanswered and almost as much of a mystery as adult Mike himself.
In terms of storyline, the most intriguing of the group are Jessica Chastain’s Beverly, the memories of her abusive father resurfacing, and James McAvoy’s Bill, whose guilt over his brother’s death resonates deeply throughout. Additionally, Bill Hader is a standout, making the most of his time as Richie, and whose mannerisms echo that of his younger counterpart the most. He also has, perhaps, the most effective emotional reaction after the fearful adrenaline has worn off in the end.
The jump scares are much better this time around as well. Pennywise is present and just as scary as ever (and incredibly annoying) and there are plenty of creepy moments, but they’re never overbearing. It’s good that Pennywise’s backstory is bare bones, actually, because that allows the focus to be on the other characters. The horror is there as a shadow, following the characters on their journey to overcome that which has kept them from fully moving on.
Despite some of its shortcomings, It Chapter Two is more of an evolution than its predecessor. There’s far more of an analysis of the characters’ psyche and that makes for a much more interesting film. At the same time, the plot is so unnecessarily dragged out and it occasionally misses the opportunity to further expand upon its own themes and character trajectories, wrapped up in the nostalgia of childhood instead of the reality of adulthood. Still, It Chapter Two offers a fascinating perspective on fear, memory, the shifting dynamics of power over your childhood trauma and what it means to make someone feel small.