The clown returns. After 27 years the loser club are each invited to return to the small town of Derry by the member who never left. They must once again conquer their fears and defeat the demonic presence that haunts them before it’s able to claim more children.
Chapter 2 revisits most of the same beats as the first and shares many of its problems. Although the kids have lived 27 years of life it seems that their fears haven’t changed much. In fact, they’re personalities haven’t really changed much at all. One member Ben has lost the weight that plagued him as a boy, but in doing so he has shed the only character trait he was given, and consequently has very little to do as an adult. It’s quite easy to forget the A-listers in the cast when they are given little more to do than simply scream and ape the mannerisms of the child characters.
In spite of the film’s sentimentality it’s actually less interested in characters and far more interested in relentless horror set pieces. The film certainly feels its near three hour length when it insists on repeating the same process of quickly and obviously building to loud, CGI-infused encounters with the monster in its various guises. Some of these monster designs are fairly inventive but they have no weight.
The film cannot escape the innate silliness of King’s brand of horror. Grinning ghouls with one liners, weird spider monsters and even werewolf chihuahuas will all run at the screen with their heads shaking whilst the music roars at you. There are very few creepy or subtly frightening images and more often than not its attempts to scare are actually pretty funny.
Pennywise is still menacingly played by Bill Skarsgård but he is largely defanged by the inconsistency around the threat he presents. He seems to feed on fear and so keeps appearing to our heroes in easily escaped tableaux to keep them afraid. However he is perfectly happy to just blindside children who aren’t afraid of him at all. Regular violence seems to work just fine so why the literal song and dance.
It Chapter 2 is ambitious in length only. What’s most frustrating about it is the potential to develop interesting themes or story threads. Why are the town still ignoring all the signs of evil and what does it mean? How have the losers changed in the last 27 years and how is fear still holding them back? How do the archetypes Pennywise presents as reflect the anxieties of the heroes or the town of Derry? Was Pennywise once human?
Instead the heroes must simple relearn the same lesson as before. This could also be interesting if the lesson of overcoming fear were linked to adult concerns, like perhaps the homophobia and discrimination displayed elsewhere in the film. The film has little to say about fear and how it can impact on our lives and society.
It would be very wrong however to suggest that It Chapter 2 has nothing to offer. The monster designs are often fun, some of the scares land well and it’s also quite funny when it needs to be. The characters may be cliched but there’s still some vitality there and a charm to seeing them together. Skarsgård is still compellingly watchable as Pennywise and it is frustrating to think we’ve seen the last of him without really fully utilising his potential.
It Chapter 2 is a little self indulgent and not as entertaining or insightful as it could have been, but with some effective moments and some likeable if not believable characters, it’s a passable blockbuster horror film. Those hoping for real scares must look elsewhere.