IT Chapter 2 is primarily a horror film but it is rarely horrific. It is the second chapter in a duology, directed by Andy Muschietti, based on Stephen King’s 1,138 page novel of the same name. King is as almost as celebrated for his insight into compassion and friendship as he is his mastery of fear. The first chapter of Muschietti’s adaptation demonstrated a strong command of the former but faltered notably when it came to the latter.
In my review of the first chapter, I wrote – “There are rarely rules to the horror in It. If there are, they bend depending on what the outcome for the characters involved needs to be. Pennywise is successful in his murderous enthusiasm in some instances when in others he is not, with few discernible difference between each scenario. When the capacity of a primary antagonist is uncertain, there isn’t a substantial foundation for fear of it. Think about the alien in Ridley Scott’s Alien. The only reason a crew member aboard the Nostromo survived an encounter with it was through luck or ingenuity, not because the alien simply didn’t kill them or because they ran to the next room.”
Beyond a disorganised attitude toward the cultivation of fear, the first film was also plagued by that common pitfall of modern horror – a reliance of jump scares. I won’t fill another horror review with my disdain for the jump scare as I have voiced it many times at length. The technique is the bedrock of cheap fear and weak filmmaking. But that the horror in the first film fell so flat is not entirely Muschietti’s fault. Let’s not forget that King is the man that wrote a story about a haunted printing press. For all of his virtues there is something slapdash about King’s creative drive.
These criticisms in regard to the first chapter’s approach to horror are also useful when it comes to appreciating how Muschietti’s sequel falters. Additionally however, the sequel doesn’t benefit from the first film’s greatest asset, which was the story focus on the children characters. Largely set 27 years after the events of the first film, IT Chapter 2 sees the return of the Losers Club, Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Bill (James McAvoy), Riche (Bill Hader), Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), Ben (Jay Ryan) and Eddie (James Ransone), to Derry, the town in which they confronted and defeated Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgård) in the first chapter. Stanley (Andy Bean), the final member of the Losers Club, does not return or reasons we find out early that I won’t spoil here.
There is also serious bloat to the film. It is peppered with moments that an indulgent director might include in an indulgent Director’s Cut. Muschietti’s creative self-gratification is such here that these moments and scenes have made it into the theatrical edition. There is nothing wrong with a long film but there is something grievously wrong with a long film that is abundantly comprised of useless material.
IT Chapter 2 retains the failings of its predecessor while unwittingly jettisoning many of its strengths. The horror is too convoluted, too directionless to sustain any sense of dread beyond an anxiety in regard to possible jump scares. The horrific imagery is also heavily dependent on blatant use of computer technology, which has a draining effect on fear. The focus on the adults is poorly handled and lacks the wistful appeal of the children’s story. And really, it’s all just a bit of a mess.