The Jakarta Post
It: Chapter Two opens with the oldest of tragedies. A gay couple, just trying to have a fun night out at a town festival, are confronted and subsequently beaten to a pulp by a gang of insecure boys. Adrian Mellon (Xavier Dolan), one half of the tragic pair, is then thrown off a bridge, into the dark river below.
Struggling to stay afloat amid the strong current, Adrian thinks that maybe – just maybe – he could survive the ordeal. However, just as he begins to feel confident about his chances, he sees a pair of shiny eyes staring at him from beyond the woods that bookend the sides of the river. The bright yellow spheres reveal themselves to be part of a face, intimidating in its pale calmness – a clown! He is saved, Adrian thinks. But then he feels the air change around him. The scene suddenly turns red. He witnesses floating red balloons fill up the night sky. He sees something else: his own blood in its crimson glory. It’s not a clown at all.
Twenty-seven years after the events in the first film, the fictional town of Derry remains a cesspool of our darkest impulses – one where lovers are senselessly tortured and murdered, childhood innocence robbed. It’s a masterful opening sequence; a poignant prologue to a tale of lost loves and decaying memories. The unfortunate fate befalling Adrian Mellon and his partner Don Hagarty (Taylor Frey) never leaves the screen, lingering instead as a faint specter that warns of further tragedies.
It: Chapter Two finds the Losers back in their seemingly cursed hometown on the 27th anniversary of their first brush with the demonic Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), fulfilling the vow they have made with each other a lifetime ago to vanquish whatever evil is bound to awaken from its slumber.
They are all grown-ups now, of course: there’s Bill (James McAvoy), a successful author of popular mystery novels who has a difficulty writing good endings; Beverly (Jessica Chastain), a respected fashion designer who is unfortunately married to an abusive man; Richie (Bill Hader), a famous stand-up comedian; Eddie (James Ransone) an uptight risk analyst; Ben (Jay Ryan), the once-chubby new kid who has made a living for himself as an in-demand architect; and Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), a librarian in Derry who summons his childhood comrades back to town. There’s also Stanley (Andy Bean), whose mysterious disappearance on the day of the Losers’ reunion servers as a bad omen.
Andy Muschietti returns to direct the sequel to his first cinematic adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel, bringing with him an entirely new arsenal of stylistic sensibilities that sets this film apart from its predecessor. Muschietti almost entirely forgoes the pretense of horror this time around, choosing instead to double down on the manic, often off-kilter energy only slightly hinted at in the previous film. It’s an admirable move, considering how the filmmaker was never particularly adept at engineering moments that aspire to catch the viewer off-guard.
One would be compelled to categorize It: Chapter Two as a ‘horror-inflected’ character study – Muschietti still offers a sufficient dose of the now-obligatory jump scares, but his modus operandi has shifted to emphasizing the foreboding atmosphere that envelops the Losers’ quest to recall forgotten memories of their tumultuous childhood. As such, the most unnerving sequences in the film are the ones that force the protagonists to confront their respective histories, sifting through and collecting figments of their former selves.
Written by horror veteran Gary Dauberman, the screenplay deftly reworks otherwise delicate themes as a series of discoveries steeped in genre conventions. Consider, for example, how the aforementioned search for the protagonists’ missing memories takes on a literal meaning as each member of the Losers’ Club embarks on individual adventures to retrieve sentimental objects of their childhood – vital MacGuffins that, when collected and merged together, have the power to destroy evil once and for all. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a retread of Harry Potter’s quest for Voldemort’s horcruxes.
Liberated from the somewhat restrictive confines of horror filmmaking, Muschietti is able to flex his directorial muscles previously unseen in the first It ( 2017 ). Instead of relying entirely on jump scares (which have now become an exhausted trope), he fully commits to bombarding the senses with stark, occasionally cosmic imagery. Past and present, real memories and hallucinations often blur together – emulating catatonia by twisting conventional film grammar. The final third, in particular, is chock-full of off-the-wall moments, including a claustrophobic scene that crams not one, but two nods to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining ( 1980 ) – also an adaptation of King’s work. The film’s use of nonlinear interludes also evokes a more recent horror masterwork, Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House ( 2018 ).
The denouement is one for the ages — vivid images of compassion overlap with one another to form a complete collage that forgives an entire history of hatred and ignorance, allowing broken souls to transcend their battered shells. Come to think of it, It: Chapter Two might be the closest we’ll ever get to a crowd-pleasing Silent Hill film. (kes)
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