“It: Chapter 2” doesn’t pull any punches from the very beginning as the movie sets the tone quickly for what is a thrilling ride from start to finish. Now I feel like I can’t discuss this movie properly without spoiling it a bit, so consider this a warning. There will be massive spoilers ahead.
Right from the beginning, we’re plunged back into Derry, Maine, 27 years after the original movie. In 2016, Derry is very much the same hateful town as it was in 1989. Right away it is clear that this movie is going to paint a dark picture as a gay couple is brutally attacked before one of them is thrown from a bridge and then found and killed by Pennywise.
None of the kids who left can remember life in Derry as if some sort of mystical PTSD has taken hold and Mike, played by Isaiah Mustafa, as the only one who never left, must bring them all back together. The movie shows us how all the kids from “It: Chapter 1” have changed, and in particular takes an opportunity to paint a dark picture of the cycle of abuse.
Beverly, played by Jessica Chastain who was abused by her father as a girl, finds herself married to another abuser. She takes Mike’s call and as she packs to leave for Derry, we see her husband’s abuse. In a harrowing scene, her husband beats her viciously and attempts to rape her before she manages to escape in a scene that nearly mirrors her escape from her father in “It: Chapter 1”.
The tension is built up early in the movie, and kept up throughout. Pennywise terrorizes early and often, seeking to exploit the fears and weaknesses of the group. Despite the fact that the movie is almost three hours long, it flies by.
The older cast lends itself well to a somewhat darker plotline than the first film. The visuals are more grotesque and disturbing, with mutated looking creatures hatching out of fortune cookies and terrorizing the cast in a Chinese restaurant being just one of the examples.
Bill Hader, who plays Richie, and Mustafa shine particularly brightly, but the whole cast gives a performance that will keep you deeply invested in their characters. Bill Skarsgård continues to be delightfully unsettling as Pennywise, with a voice and smile that will make your skin crawl every time he’s on the screen.
The movie thrives on cinematic moments, a balloon framed between prison bars, Pennywise’s eyes floating disembodied in the dark highlight beautiful visuals and excellent lighting choices that heighten fear and suck you out of your seat and into Derry.
The film explores further the origin of Pennywise, with Mike leading the way. As the only member of the group who stayed in Derry, he was the only one who never forgot Pennywise. He shows Bill, played by James McAvoy, Pennywise’s true origin with the help of a psychedelic root and an artifact that he obtained from local Native Americans.
This disjointed drug-trip shows Pennywise’s origin as a creature whose power comes from others’ fear of him, a key factor that becomes the central theme in defeating him once and for all. Belief and how we see ourselves and others are important themes throughout the whole movie, with character’s views of themselves and each other undergoing dramatic metamorphosis in the film. Bill struggles to accept that his brother Georgie’s death wasn’t his fault, beating himself up over it for 27 years and other members of the group also go through similar struggles.
The movie stumbles a bit with Richie’s secret. Richie’s story takes more of a center stage than it did in the previous film, with the clear subtext that Richie is gay and in the closet. The story is compelling, and artfully shows Richie’s struggle growing up in a homophobic small town, but the movie never lets Richie come out to his friends, instead the film chose to hint at it repeatedly. For a movie that started off the way it did, this feels like a missed opportunity. Hader’s great performance in the role notwithstanding, Richie’s story ends feeling somewhat incomplete.
Other than this key issue and maybe a few too many jokes, (I don’t go to see a horror movie to laugh after all) the movie is a solid thrill ride that delivers with jump scares and gore galore.