I found horror films oddly comforting when I was a kid. I have fond memories of gazing at grisly VHS covers and curling up to creepy movies on crisp fall evenings. One that stands out in my mind is the night I watched the 1990 It miniseries with my junior-high friends. The warmth of each other’s company cut through the chills running up our spines. I walked home scared yet invigorated, reveling in the autumn wind and the notion that I could fend off monsters with a little help from my friends.
It: Chapter Two brings back that feeling. Clocking in at nearly three hours, it’s a delicious deep-dish slice of horror that also provides the comfort of a sleepover.
A tragic incident of real-world horror brings the film’s ensemble together. Some local punks attack a gay couple outside of a carnival in the quaint town of Derry, Maine. The delinquents beat them within an inch of their lives, leaving them prey to Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgård). This heinous hate crime serves as a stark reminder of the all-too-real monsters lurking our streets. While these thugs surround us all the time, Pennywise emerges only every 27 years.
Mike (Isaiah Washington) calls each member of the Losers’ Club — now all grown up — to heed the warning of the clown’s return. Unlike Mike, the rest of the bunch has all moved far away from their childhood home, seeking solace in lucrative careers. Bill (James McAvoy) is a successful horror writer who has trouble closing out his scary stories because he feels like his own nightmares will never come to an end. Richie (Bill Hader) is a comedian who hides behind his humor. The once-chubby Ben (Jay Ryan) is an athletic architect. While risk analyst Eddie (James Ransone) married a woman just like his overbearing mother, fashion designer Beverly (Jessica Chastain) settled down with a man identical to her abusive father.
All of the stellar cast members share an endearing chemistry and truly seem like old friends. You can sense the weight lifted off their shoulders when they band together to fight their past tormentor.
Screenwriter Gary Dauberman effectively emphasizes the theme of trauma. “Sometimes, we are what we wish to forget,” Mike says in the opening narration.
Like the Stephen King classic on which it is based, the film digs deep, stressing Pennywise’s manipulative powers more than his creepy appearance. A particularly memorable scene finds him relating to a little girl, comparing the way he feels about his makeup to her embarrassment over the birthmark on her face. He reels her in with his false empathy. This eerily intimate moment rivals the opening of the first film in showing Pennywise’s seductive nature.
An even more perfect Pennywise encounter takes place in a funhouse hall of mirrors as Bill tries to rescue a boy who reminds him of his little brother, Georgie. McAvoy and director Andy Muschietti make you sense more than surface-level fear. They make you feel the crippling weight of Bill’s guilt over his brother’s death and his desperate need for redemption. It: Chapter Two captures the humanity behind the horror.
The film doesn’t seem to be swinging for big scares that will haunt your dreams. It’s more of a horror adventure in which the characters’ compassion lights the way through the darkness. You’ll leave the theater shivering from excitement rather than fear.