It Chapter Two (2019) Andy Muschietti - Movie Review
It Chapter Two (2019) Directed by: Andy Muschietti Writers: Gary Dauberman (screenplay), Stephen King (based on the novel by) Stars: Bill Skarsgård, Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Teach Grant, Sophia Lillis, Jaeden Martell, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Nicholas Hamilton, Jackson Robert Scott, Stephen Bogaert, Molly Atkinson, Joan Gregson, Xavier Dolan, Taylor Frey, Stephen King Run Time: 169 min Rated: 13+/14A (Canada), R (MPAA) for disturbing violent content and bloody images throughout, pervasive language, and some crude sexual material.
Listen here for audio of radio interviews about films from a Christian perspective with Pastors Ted Giese and Todd Wilken on IssuesEtc.org where Christianity meets culture. (This review contains spoilers)
Hair-raising horror: part two
It Chapter Two continues the story of It (2017) based on the Stephen King 1986 novel. In this sequel a group of adults Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain), Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy), Richie Tozier (Bill Hader), Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan), Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone), Stanley Uris (Andy Bean), band together to keep a promise and return to the small fictional town of Derry, Maine. There they revisit their adolescent fears and traumas while fighting to defeat an evil entity violently exploiting and feeding on people’s fears.
The previous film focused on these seven characters as young teens: Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Martell), Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff) coalesce into a group nicknamed The Losers’ Club, and while becoming friends they individually and collectively fight their deepest fears and come to grips with a rash of child abductions which they discover have been orchestrated and manipulated by the mysterious otherworldly Pennywise the Dancing Clown who they learn has terrorized the town of Derry every 27 years for centuries. After defeating the murderous Clown in his layer down in the towns sewers the kids make their blood pact vowing to return and finish the job if Pennywise should ever return … which he does right on schedule.
Stephen King’s book jumps back and forth between the adult and adolescence timelines Andy Muschietti the director of these two films chose to return to this formula for It Chapter Two including additional footage of the young cast to weave into the adult storyline. On one hand this makes sense as the adult story is less about coming of age, discovery and mystery and much more about memory and facing the past. On the other hand while the choice to focus exclusively on the younger characters in It (2017) was the strength of that film, capitalizing on the popularity of modern YA fiction and TV shows and like Stranger Things (2016—) as well as cult 80’s sci-fi-horror-adventure-films involving children and teens, here in It Chapter Two this choice becomes more of a weakness as Muschietti is forced to lean heavily on the success of the first film. Had Muschietti managed to weave some of the adult story into the first film both films may have ended up more balanced when looking at them as a whole. As it stands the emotional impact and charming nature of the first film and the careful character development of the adolescent characters by comparison is lacking for their adult counterparts.
Adaptation is a challenging endeavour and Muschietti took on an ambitious project when tackling King’s novel It: Overall he succeeds however there are still stretches of this new film that contain writing more on par with the Tommy Lee Wallace’s It (1990) TV miniseries. Some of screenplay writer Gary Dauberman’s dialogue is overwritten and because the film is juggling so much material Muschietti at times tends to miss diving deep into his subject matter. It Chapter Two stays in the shallow end of its source material unlike the first film which confidently swims the length of King’s grey-water-clown-infested-pool-of-fear. That said the performance of Bill Skarsgård as wall eyed Pennywise is consistent and perhaps even improved upon in It Chapter Two as more is revealed about the evil entity from beyond who like the “itsy-bitsy spider” has climbed up the spout again after 27 years down the drain.
Next to Skarsgård the standout performance in the film goes to comedian Bill Hader as the adult ‘trash mouth’ Richie Tozier who really does turn in a good dramatic performance with strong comedic elements. However a lot of the buzz around this performance will likely be due to a LGBTQ twist on his character which is not present in King’s book. So while other kids in The Losers’ Club are dealing with grief and loss, stammers, abusive parents, fat-shaming, teasing and racism Tozier seemed lumped in with them because he had a big mouth that was always getting him in trouble. This twist on the character gives him an additional reason to be an outsider. Interestingly this twist was not added into It (2017) and frankly feels shoehorned into It Chapter Two as do the vast majority of these modern revisions found in similar remakes, re-imaginings or reboots.
Christian viewers will also want to take note of some of the other details floating around in the film. Viewers familiar with King’s book may remember that the reader is first introduced to Stanley Uris, The Losers’ Club member, as an adult who upon receiving a call from Mike Hanlon to return to Derry to again fight Pennywise promptly goes upstairs and commits suicide. Because this is part of the adult story of Uris it was omitted from the first It film and comes up near the beginning of It Chapter Two. The general interpretation of this in King’s Novel is that Uris acted out of cowardice because he couldn’t face a future where he had to deal with Pennywise again; therefore Uris killing himself broke his promise to join his fellow Losers’ Club members back in Derry actually making their work harder than it would have been if he had returned. Uris’ suicide also tells the reader that adults are not safe from Pennywise which means none of the characters are safe. This is smart writing on King’s part, and it doesn’t soften the tragedy of suicide. Muschietti attempts to make Uris’ suicide into an act of heroism by presenting it as a sacrifice.
In It Chapter Two Uris commits suicide because he sees himself as the weakest link among the friends and considers his death to be a way of removing himself from the game board making his suicide into his personal contribution to defeat Pennywise. This is the same sort of thinking that some people have used to justify eugenic choices like sterilization of the ‘genetically weak,’ abortion of the ‘inconvenient baby,’ and euthanasia of those both young and old who fail to meet a minimum standard of ‘quality of life.’ By glorifying Uris’ suicide St. Paul’s advice “let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4) is twist around making Uris’ poor choice to kill himself into something done out of humility for others instead of something done out of cowardice. In reality, justifying such a choice in that way actually sadly robs Uris’ friends of the opportunity to care for him in his need.
The Christian viewer who reflects on this will want to remember what Scripture says, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) For Christian’s suicide is a painful thing not only because of the needles loss of human life but also because Scripture teaches that “if one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together,” (1 Corinthians 12:26) suicide then removes the opportunity to bear one another's burdens and it also removes the possibility to rejoice together when the suffering has passed. Viewers of It Chapter Two will want to be careful not to take the bait presented in the film: glorifying suicide by making it a heroic act and meaningful contribution to others is dangerous when applied to oneself or to others in society.
It Chapter Two also includes the theme of bullying. The repeated terrorizing perpetrated by Pennywise and his affinity to, and kinship with, characters like Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) and the gang who beats up a gay couple throwing one off the bridge into the Derry canal leaving him for dead at the beginning of the film, is evidence that the evil at the core of the film survives off of the power it believes it gains by controlling and harming others. So when the climax of the film arrives and the solution to overcoming Pennywise is simply to turn the tables and gang up on him swarming him and verbally demeaning him, calling him names until Pennywise not only feels small but literally become small enough to kill, then it must be stated that Christians are not called to fight bullying with bullying. This may have been a socially acceptable response when King’s book was released in 1986 but even then Scripture would advise, as it does now, “repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17–21) So while the severity of the bullying and torment and physical danger presented by Pennywise is indeed overwhelming for some of the characters in this film it still doesn’t justify fighting fire with fire. The Christian is not to engage in bullying and is to repent of this kind of treatment of others. Viewers ultimately need not find their life lessons in films like It Chapter Two or in Stephen King novels. While King may be a good observer of human nature and some of that may shine through in these films Christian viewers will want to remember that human nature, especially in its darker aspects, is a fallen nature.
Additionally, the way Pennywise is initially fought in this film, and in King’s book, includes something called The Ritual of Chüd—a kind of shamanistic battle of wills complete with personal totems imbued with power due to their connection to the individuals involved. In the film each adult character must go on a ‘walk about’ in Derry to face their past fears and find their totems. From a Christian confession of faith this is not the kind of activity Christians are to engage in when dealing with their personal fears and past traumas. For a look at fear and faith check out the review of the first It (2017) film.
On a positive note, an idea surfaces at the end of the film about how people are often still ‘losers’ even when they win. While the film presents this as a kind of self-acceptance necessary for the remaining Loser’s Club members to move forward in their lives linked to their new-found control over how they remember their past fears and traumas, the fact remains that Derry ends up free of Pennywise but no one knows why or even who rescued them. This is the interesting part for the Christian. While the world may look down on Christians as losers, in Christ and His cross and passion, they have already beaten the devil, sin, death, the world and even the self. And while many people are unaware of this victory and live their lives oblivious of why, or even who it was who rescued them, the Christian is not unaware.
It Chapter Two begins with Darry’s summer carnival ‘Cannel Days’ complete with rides, and midway games and a fun house / hall of mirrors and Muschietti returns to this same fair during his near three hour film for one of its more frightening sequences. This carnival might however be the perfect example of how to describe this film. It is very much like the fun house or a roller coaster, full of spills and chills while the ride is going but memorable only in parts when the ride is over, the popcorn is stale, days have passed and the helium has dispersed from all the red balloons. Muschietti certainly delivers a number of hair raising moments but viewers will mostly see them coming a long way off like the loops in a roller coaster. Any lingering dread or mounting terror that the film develops along the way is undercut with a steady stream of humour and laughs. When compared to It (2017) this film feels uneven and lacking the flow of the first film, with It Chapter Two viewers might get the sense that the carneys need to tighten the bolts on all the rides. Despite this, some horror fans will likely enjoy the ride in the same sort of way that they would enjoy a roller coaster. And like at the county fair there will be people standing at the sidelines who wouldn’t be caught dead on the ride. And even though the film is riff with juvenile gross-out moments and cheap carnival fun house jump scares there are sequences to make the hairs on the back of the neck stand on end. People who want those hairs to stay put will be well advised to avoid this film.
Muschietti will do well with this film. In its opening weekend it made more than $190 million internationally topping the number one spot on the charts around the world. There certainly is an appetite for adaptations of Stephen King’s writing right now and an appetite for horror films in general. Viewers may want to reflect on this growing appetite when they consider heading to the theatre.