‘It: Chapter Two’ Review: You Don’t Have To Be Scared Of Clowns To Leave Terrified

Welcome To Derry HBO Max It Chapter Two Bill Skarsgard Pennywise

Adapting a 1,000-plus page novel to the screen is never easy, especially when it’s written by Stephen King, but director Andy Muschietti has pulled off the unthinkable by giving fans a worthy adaptation with It: Chapter Two. A follow-up to last year’s box office smash, It: Chapter Two picks up 27 years after the original as Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise once again wreaks havoc on the small town of Derry, Maine. A lot funnier than it has any right to be, the follow-up is just as terrifying as the original and is well-paced despite its whopping 170-minute runtime. Even when it’s clear a new sequence that will inevitably feature a scare of some kind is starting, It: Chapter Two succeeds at constantly retaining a tense atmosphere and keeping audiences guessing at what terrifying event could come next.

The special effects and moody lighting of It: Chapter Two enhance Pennywise’s menacing demeanor, but the core of the spooky clown’s terrifying nature is Bill Skarsgard’s wonderful performance. Forget a giant spider or a zombified bully, Pennywise is at his most terrifying when he’s looking right at someone, analyzing and judging them with a dripping smile on his face. Bill Skarsgard’s ability to seem simultaneously vulnerable and vicious at the same time keeps everyone on their toes around the misleading clown. Charismatic and manipulative enough to make people act against their better judgment, Pennywise is a truly terrifying antagonist because he pulls out the worst in each one of his victims. Whether Pennywise is confronting the entire Losers’ Club or a member one-on-one, Skarsgard imbues the clown with  a chaotic energy that makes it hard to look away no matter how badly you may want to.

The strong ensemble of It: Chapter Two serves as the glue that keeps this massive film together. While the adult versions of the Losers’ Club don’t have the same lovable chemistry as their teenage counterparts, who are seen throughout the film in flashbacks and new scenes from the ’80s that do a good job making the actions of the two films seamlessly flow together, each performer is perfectly cast and does a great job showcasing how living with fear and a general sense of unease has impacted each of their lives. Similar to how the first film spent a significant amount of time following each character, It: Chapter Two methodically reintroduces each member of the Losers’ Club and their new situation. Billy (James McAvoy) is now a successful writer who struggles to come up with adequate endings, Richie (Bill Hader) is a lonely standup comedian, and Eddie (James Ransone) is a risk analyst, married to a loud woman who treats him in the same belittling, controlling way his mother did. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) may be the only one who stayed in Derry, obsessing over how to defeat the terrifying clown that destroyed their childhood, but Beverly (Jessica Chastain) is likely the most scarred, having nightmares of her friends’ deaths every night and wasting away in an abusive relationship.

Bill Hader probably gets to ham it up the most with Ritchie’s snarky one-liners, but each performer does a remarkable job showing their fear non-verbally. When each character is first contacted by Mike, their body language immediately changes and everything from the way they are holding the phone to how they are looking at people around them reflects their new fear.  Throughout Chapter Two, different characters share small looks with each other that perfectly convey just how terrified and overwhelmed they feel in that exact moment.  Each member of the cast does a wonderful job, but Ransone leaves the biggest impression from the Losers’ Club because his ability to quickly switch between nervous anguish and courageousness perfectly embodies the general sense of overcoming one’s fears the whole movie is about.

To match the intense performances, everything from the set decoration to the tight sound design helps set a tense scene. The haunted houses and decrepit apartments are filled with cobwebs and broken drywall, but even the rustic Inn and library have a creepy sense about them that keeps everything feeling slightly ominous. In unique settings like the hall of mirrors and Pennywise’s home, It: Chapter Two utilizes the camera extremely well, constantly whipping around corners to give chase sequences a rushed sense. A lot of the scenes have a claustrophobic feeling once the characters start having Pennywise-filled visions, and the movie does a great job at slowly closing the walls in on the characters to make each moment seem more heightened and urgent.

Throughout It: Chapter Two, main and background characters are making fun of Billy’s inability to tell a satisfying ending. The joke comes up so many times that it almost seems like the film is trying to let the audience in on a little secret: we don’t have the best ending. Part of what makes It so satisfying is the somewhat cosmic nature and grand scale of Pennywise’s haunting behavior, but the epic proportions also make it difficult to deescalate things in a satisfying manner. While there is an enjoyable climactic battle with Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise that challenges each member of the Losers’ Club differently, the group essentially succeeds by yelling at the clown and choosing to believe that he no longer holds power over them. It’s hard to come up with a satisfying conclusion that isn’t a lot of “magical phooey” when the gang ultimately and obviously just has to kill the boogeyman, but It: Chapter Two succeeds at showing how each character is impacted by the incidents and what riding into the sunset means after an experience like this.

To be honest, I haven’t read It, so I’m not too sure how deeply Stephen King got into things in the book, but I wish It: Chapter Two explored Richie and Eddie’s relationship more. As satisfying as the romantic moments between Beverly and Ben are, and even some of the larger triangle moments that include Billy, the unspoken borders of Richie and Eddie’s comradery were only teased. In a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment at the end, Richie can be seen re-etching his and Eddie’s initials in a bridge, but It never gives the characters room to breath and express —  neither verbally nor non-verbally — what they truly meant to each other. Friends to the very end, It: Chapter Two was more preoccupied making sure the two characters made “your mom” jokes to one another instead of exploring how they felt.

Overall Thoughts: As the second part of a larger story, It: Chapter Two miraculously works on its own as a cohesive, frightening film. Obviously, to fully enjoy the story and the film’s nuances, I obviously recommend seeing It (or reading the book if you’re truly adventurous), but anyone looking for a good scare or uncomfortable feeling now that Fall is here should check it out. It’s got all the horror essentials — spooky clowns, acting spooky and old women acting kooky, so what are you waiting for?

Final Score: 8/10