By John H. Foote
The grand finale of the filmed version of the massive Stephen King book, this is among the most anticipated films of the year.
It (2017) was the adaptation of a King’s massive novel, an absolute stunner and one of the man’s finest achievements. The TV film was very good, bolstered immeasurably by Tim Curry’s masterful turn as the clown, Pennywise. The greatest concern for the remake was that no actor could do what Curry had pulled off. What no one counted on was the terrifying performance Bill Skarsgard gave as Pennywise, a leering, lewd nightmare in grease paint, he might be the most terrifying villain in horror films.
The first film soared with more than eight hundred million at the box office, strong reviews, and a loyal, steadfast audience who have waited patiently (sort of) for It – Chapter Two.
It has arrived.
Picking up 27 years after the first, those kids have grown up and all but one has left the small town where the clown Pennywise wreaked his havoc. Having sworn a blood oath to return if the murders started up again, the problem is the further away from the town they get, the more the memories of Pennywise fade. Perhaps that is part of the horror of Pennywise, that he has that power, which in itself is terrifying. When the group gets word that the murders have begun again, they do indeed fulfill their oath and return home to fight the clown.
Casting is such an important aspect of films, one that often does not get enough credit. Sure, directors cast who they want but often it is after long conversations with a well seasoned Casting Director. For this second film, the job was difficult because we have seen the characters as children so the difficulty comes in casting actors we believe these kids might have grown into. Even before the first film was over, Jessica Chastain was being discussed as Beverly and she is utter perfection. Equally fine is Bill Hader as Richie, both stealing every scene they are in in, particularly Hader, which is not meant to slight Chastain in any way.
And to be clear, those exceptional kids show up in flashbacks to further make clear the genius of the casting. It hammers home Clint Eastwood’s theory that directing is 50 percent casting.
Called home by the only one, Mike (Isiaah Mustafa), that remained in Derry working as a librarian, quietly chronicling the activities of It, they each have lived very different lives, yet the moment they are together old memories stir, and yes, Pennywise, that murderous clown is back. One of Stephen King’s great gifts has been exploring childhood friendship in his work. He did so superbly in Stand By Me (1986) which Rob Reiner turned into an instant classic on film. Here it feels deeper as the adults know the dangers, the risks of facing off against this creature yet bravely do.
The first film was indeed terrifying. This second film, though the middle bogs down in some repetition, is equally frightening. It seems as though the filmmakers did not trust the audience not to have seen the original film, and we get just too many flashbacks.
Pennywise is again portrayed by the gifted young actor Bill Skarsgard, part of an acting family, genuinely chilling as Pennywise. Goosebumps rise, the blood goes cold, you might forget to take a breath when he is on screen, he is THAT frightening. Bloody and horrific, what this monstrosity does to his victims goes beyond evil.
As expected, Chastain is terrific as Beverly, who after an abusive childhood at the hands of her father married an abusive man. She is only too happy to leave to come home, where old feelings smoulder between she and both Ben and Bill.
Hader is astonishing as the comic Richie, a caustic motormouth who fears being lonely above all else. Here in Derry, with this tight group of friends, he feels safe, he can be himself.
James McAvoy is Bill, still blaming himself for the death of his adorable little brother Georgie, still trying to find him, still seeking revenge in Pennywise for what he did not to just his brother, a complete innocent, but Bill’s childhood. The rest of the adult Losers Club, each have their moments, but the aforementioned three outshine them. It was lovely seeing Ben (Jay Ryan) rediscover his love for Beverly after marrying a lookalike to her.
One comes to believe that in his own perverse manner, Pennywise admires the kids for having the courage to fight back, for coming to rescue Beverly when she was doomed in his lair. You could even say he missed them during his long hibernation and they challenge him. What are heroes without a villain?
Director Andy Muschietti does a fine job setting up the introductions to the adult Losers, then goes back in time to spend some with them as kids in a superb not seen before scene, before returning to them as adults deciding to fight Pennywise. If anything can be criticized it is that the scenes with the kids are simply more interesting, and this group has a chemistry the adults do not have. That is not to say the adults lack chemistry, but where they falter, I think is as a group.
Still it is a solid movie, worthy sequel and bound to be a smash success.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.