It’s a truth accepted in the horror world that any essential addition to the cannon can expect to get a not-quite-as-essential sequel a couple of years later. Something that tries to hit all the same notes of the classic, and add something to the story, but that just never gets as good as the first outing. Halloween did it by picking up a minute after the original; Hellraiser did it by adding in background plot; Friday 13th did it by switching metaphorical investigation, and now IT has tried to do it by running what feels like a lot of the same story with adults. It has a pretty good swing at it, all told, but it just never manages to reach the heights of the near perfect Chapter One.
On a production level, it’s still an amazing bit of cinema. Derry is still stunningly realised, the cast (both the original children and the “new” adult versions of The Losers Club) is still excellent, and the individual moments can still play you like a devil’s banjo. The look and feel are consistent with the first chapter, and, on that level, it absolutely feels like a continuation of the same story. However, due to the events of Chapter One, so much of the mystery is gone the anticipation of potential terror around every corner is missing. We, and the characters, know what needs to be done, so it’s about getting to the action rather than dealing with the terror.
Part of that absence of terror is also to do with there being far less Pennywise than in the prior outing. Coulrophobics don’t get a free ride, as Bill Skarsgård still gets to layer on the grease paint with blood curdling effect, but rather than a spook that drives the narrative along, he is now a force felt in the background and that lets his other talents run riot. But, for whatever primal reason of the human psyche, an eight-foot-tall zombie granny trying to punch someone’s face in just isn’t as adrenaline inducing as a clown holding a balloon.
Things also aren’t helped by the change in stakes, as things were just more tense when it was all about children. The adult cast do an amazing job, with Jessica Chastain, Isaiah Mustafa, and Jay Ryan getting definite mentions for some very heavy lifting, but it’s a different ballgame to have a group of 30 somethings saying something isn’t real than a ragtag gang of tweens. That most of the character development comes from flashbacks to events as kids that we didn’t see in Chapter One says a lot, as the story continues to be about their childhoods rather than their present. Thankfully there are some scenes of new kids being annihilated by Pennywise to get things back on track, and they are genuinely effective. A few of the gang that terrorised The Loser’s are also back, helping Pennywise do his dastardly work, but they never get to the levels of menace that their junior selves managed.
As with other sequels, there is also an extension of the plot and background from before. To its credit, IT Chapter Two shows restraint and doesn’t add anything that retcons the previous movie. On one level this works very well, because the audience won’t feel cheated and all the questions that get answered were established in the previous sitting. However, this means that it’s back into the same haunted house and a fight that uses a number of tricks that aren’t as unexpected this time around. We also have more meat on the mythological bones of what they are battling, but that becomes a bit of a no-score draw as that knowledge balances out the existential fear.
None of this is an attempt at a hot-take or to say that this is a bad film. It’s still easily in the top ten of horror movies for the past two years and it’s still a fine and satisfying conclusion to the original film. It’s simply to acknowledge that this is the third act of the story, and that, as with most stories, it’s acts one and two that really grab you. We start of knowing how everything must end, and then get a couple of tweaks and turns along the way. That an almost three-hour-long movie can keep a third act interesting is in and of itself a bit of a miracle, especially when it manages to give all the key characters their own narrative and focus scenes. It manages to avoid feeling bloated, it just has a lot of ground to cover and you don’t want it to rush anything, in case things get missed.
For people who watched and enjoyed Chapter One, this is worth seeing. Just marshal your expectations accordingly. For those who either didn’t watch or didn’t enjoy the first movie then don’t, as it won’t change your mind on any level. For diehard fans of Stephen King, you’ve probably already seen it anyway so I’ll just leave you with the news that rumours abound of an even longer director’s cut of the two chapters in the works.