The way in which audiences interact with horror films — and what we expect from them — has always been fascinating.
On one hand, we relish the surprises horror typically offers. We want to be shocked, scared, jolted out of our seats. Our tension rises as we cower at what terror might be lurking around the next corner, while also hoping it will be a fright or monster or killer that we’ve never seen before.
At the same time, we also harbor certain basic expectations about what a horror film should be. We want to see the various boxes checked, traditions honored, elements repeated. It’s why I believe you see so many sequels and long-running series in horror. We crave the thrills the genre offers, but we find comfort in the repetition.
And that even includes runtime. While there are always exceptions, horror films are generally 90-minute affairs, with gusts up to 100 minutes or maybe two hours. Genre custom dictates that you get to a theater, get shocked, spooked and otherwise tossed around for about an hour and a half, then get spit back out of the auditorium. Thanks for coming, see you in a couple years for the sequel.
And in that regard alone, It: Chapter Two, director Andy Muschietti’s follow-up to his 2017 box office smash It, offers a different look. The new film is nearly three hours long, and is a sprawling, overstuffed, sometimes indulgent but often thrilling horror opus that, despite meandering at times, utilizes a number of solid performances from actors young and old to round out the two-part adaptation of Stephen King’s famed 1986 novel.
It: Chapter Two picks up 27 years after the events of the original film, which was set in 1989. The preteens who formed the first chapter’s Losers Club — Bill, Stanley, Richie, Eddie, Beverly, Mike and Ben — are now adults who, in the years after vanquishing the evil, murderous clown Pennywise, have moved away from their picturesque small town of Derry, Maine, and onto mostly normal lives. Only Mike has remained in Derry and, when some grisly murders take place that seem to indicate Pennywise may have returned, he summons the other members of the club back to their hometown, so they can band together and face off with their blood thirsty nemesis once again.
Muschietti has a fairly heavy lift here, particularly as it regards asking a group of adult actors to take on well-liked characters who were portrayed, quite capably, by child actors in the 2017 film. If the audience doesn’t believe that the now-adult members of the Losers Club are natural extensions of their preteen selves from the first chapter, then the whole enterprise is on shaky ground.
It’s a pitfall that’s avoided, as the actors Muschietti turns to for the adult Losers mostly deliver impressive performances. (Those who fell in love with the younger actors in the first film can rest easy: The kids appear frequently in Chapter Two, courtesy of abundant — overly abundant, honestly — flashback sequences.) Bill Hader, as the adult version of motormouth Richie, is the standout among the new cast members, bringing a much-needed levity to what is otherwise a violent, grim film. Kudos, as well, go to Jessica Chastain for her take on Beverly. She is, at once, relatable and glamorous as the lone female member among our group of protagonists, and often finds herself at the emotional center of the film.
The movie does creak under the weight of its massive runtime. It flirts with bogging down during a middle section in which members of the club are split up, and one-by-one find themselves facing off alone against Pennywise. There’s a sort of rote feeling to this swath of the film, like the characters are “taking turns” being menaced by the evil clown (played once again by a game Bill Skarsgård).
Not that this stretch is devoid of thrills. In fact, it reminded me quite a bit of the Nightmare on Elm Street films, a tip-of-the hat that seems very intentional. There’s a scene late in the Chapter Two where the camera lingers on a movie theater marquee advertising A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 that’s about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face.
While Chapter Two has its faults, it ultimately worked for me as a capper to the cinematic adaptation of King’s novel because I found myself caring about the characters and the world they inhabit. I wouldn’t mind hanging out in that world a bit longer, in fact.
We live in an era filled with remakes and reboots and cinematic callbacks to decades gone by. In a time stuffed with nostalgia porn, the It films might be the nostalgia porniest, and here’s why: Not only do they hit you in the gut with the little cheap shots — “Hey, look at this Mortal Kombat arcade machine! Oh, and look at this Lost Boys poster!” — but they also have a way of driving home more organic narrative lookbacks. “Hey, you remember that small town you grew up in? And that time you cut school and went swimming with your friends? And that girl you had a crush on?” Yeah, I do remember that.
The reason the Losers Club works — on King’s pages and now across two movies — is because we can see ourselves there. Most of us have taken our fair share of Ls in life, and it’s our friends who helped us push past them.
Murderous clowns or otherwise, we all have our own challenges to overcome.