Cinematic Releases: The Reunion of the Losers Club: It: Chapter Two (2019) - Reviewed

The first installment of It (2017) was a surprising box office hit, and brought the chilling story of the town of Derry and its demon Pennywise the Clown to a whole new generation of viewers. Adapting Stephen King's sprawling thousand page novel is no small task, but director Andres Muschietti executed the first half, which focuses on the characters as children, with admirable finesse. The second half of the book has the children returning as adults to Derry twenty-seven years later to confront Pennywise again and It: Chapter Two (2019) picks up where the first film left off.

The Losers Club is all grown up with Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy), Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain), Richie Tozier (Bill Hader), Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan), Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone), Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) and Stanley Uris (Andy Bean) having to confront their fears and face painful (and good) memories. The heart of the story is two-fold--the idea that Derry itself has been infected with an ancient evil that has tainted the entire town irrevocably and that ones childhood shapes the adult that they become for better or for worse. This film doesn't explore the former concept as much as it should, but it mostly succeeds with the latter.

The first act, quite frankly, is a hot mess structurally. After a strong and creepy opening, it has trouble finding its footing as it tries to both reintroduce the Losers as adults and set-up the premise. The flow feels disjointed and somewhat rushed, but it levels out after the Losers get back together and formulate their plan. The formula feels similar the the first film, with the adults splitting up and each having their own encounter with Pennywise. It works in the book because the reader is privy to the internal monologue of the characters and the revelations they receive, but in the film some characters fare better than others. Beverly and Richie have the most compelling and fully realized arcs and unfortunately the other characters just don't feel as fleshed out.

What the film does extremely well is the integration of the flashbacks with the present time, and the narrative spends a lot of the time seamlessly switching between the past and the present. The kids from the first film had excellent chemistry and it's great to see them interacting with each other again. The adults are well cast and they emulate the quirks of the child versions of themselves with uncanny accuracy. Bill Hader as Richie steals every scene he is in, and provides a surprisingly nuanced performance as the comedian of the group. His delivery is pitch-perfect, and though his humor teeters very close to undercutting some emotional moments, it has a fantastic emotional payoff in the latter half of the film.

Pennywise doesn't really feel like a threat until the final act of the film, and most of the horror is of the jump-scare variety in the first two-thirds. That being said, this adaptation is quite ambitious as it dives into the Lovecraftian cosmic horror aspect of the book that was sorely missed in the '90s TV miniseries. There is some seriously surreal stuff going on in the third act that might turn off viewers who are unfamiliar with the novel. Though it doesn't go all the way with the weirdness, there is enough of the lore in there to satisfy those who are into that kind of thing. Not all of it works, but I respect the initiative.

Overall, this film feels less tightly crafted and edited than the first film (but still has the stellar cinematography, framing, and music) and it has a lot of pacing issues and struggles to find a consistent tone. That being said, the good elements still outweigh the bad and as a Stephen King adaptation it nails a lot of the aspects that make his work so memorable.

--Michelle Kisner