Andy Muscietti (Mama, It) directs this two-part film based on Stephen King's 1986 horror novel about an evil subterranean-dwelling clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) who preys on the children of Derry, Maine, by exploiting their fears and phobias. In the first part (2017), we're introduced to The Losers Club, a group of seven adolescent misfits who band together for protection from the town's bullies, but more importantly from Pennywise, who abducts and murders children. The kids apparently defeat Pennywise in the first part, but in Chapter 2, 27 years after the first episode, Pennywise returns, and Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) begins to call the other members of The Losers Club to remind them of their blood pact to return to Derry and band together to defeat Pennywise if he ever returns. Soon Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy), Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain), Richie Tozier (Bill Hader), Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan), Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone), and Stanley Uris (Andy Bean) are drawn back to the Pennywise mystery, and through flashback we revisit their younger selves (Chosen Jacobs as Mike; Jaeden Martell as Bill; Sophia Lillis as Beverly; Finn Wolfhard as Richie; Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben; Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie; and Wyatt Oleff as Stanley). (102 min.)
Glen Oh man, this film is fun! It's the sort of nostalgic, over-the-top horror of Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), with crazy special effects, jump scares, and laughs. All the Losers Club members have left Derry except Mike, who lives in the library and monitors the police scanner for any sign of Pennywise's return, and return he does in the opening set piece at an amusement park. As he makes his calls, we learn about the seven principal characters' lives 27 years after their Pennywise run-in. Things aren't necessarily going great for any of them, and the six members who moved away have a limited memory of the events of their past, but as they return to Derry, those horrifying albeit fragmented memories return. I have to admit I was having a hard time connecting the adult characters with the adolescent ones. I never read the book, and I saw It two years ago, but about a third of the way through this pretty long but not necessarily slow film, as the story moved back and forth between time, it became easier to track who was who. This is a solid cast, and the young and older actors are all really engaging. Unless you're really well versed with the story and characters, you may have a little trouble connecting It with It Chapter 2, but it will come, and when it does, you're in for a fun horror ride!
Anna Even having read the book before the last film came out, it took me a little while to string the characters together as well. There are a lot of people jumping forward and back through time! Nevertheless, it all falls into place soon enough, and the nightmarish adventure into underground Derry begins. Skarsgård is a wholly terrifying Pennywise, whose yellow eyes and drooling mouth are truly unsettling. Props to the makeup and costuming departments on that one! Mike has an easy enough time getting the group to reassemble, but getting them to stay in the cursed town to fight the monster they thought they had defeated once again proves a feat. Their first night back in Derry is a drunken catch-up at the local Chinese restaurant, but the end of the evening turns to terror when the contents of their fortune cookies turn both disgusting and ominous. It becomes clear Pennywise knows they are back in town, and the evil clown is up to his old tricks once again.
Glen That scene in the Chinese restaurant really set the tone for the exceptional special effects. The creatures popping out of the cookies represent the characters' worst nightmares, and they're surely creative. Later we learn that Mike has been studying some ancient Native American artifacts about the legend of Pennywise's origin, which may offer a way to defeat him for good. But in order for the ceremony to be carried out, the various Losers Club members must locate their own personal talisman. So like the beginning of the film as we visit each character's life outside Derry one by one, we now follow each character as he or she searches for that special object. Structurally, it gives viewers a chance to separate the characters from one another and more fully connect their young and old selves. Ultimately, the story is about the enduring bonds of friendship, teamwork, and trust. King's books are often the size of large metropolitan-area telephone books—he really likes to dig into the details. Films can't really do that, so fans of his book might think the film is pretty thin in comparison, but It and It Chapter 2 offer a crazy and funny—and at times even emotionally potent—ride. The films aren't especially frightening, but there are some jump-out-of-your-seat moments amid a really well-crafted and directed two-part series, featuring a great cast. Even the bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton as young Henry and Teach Grant as old) returns in a great side story. If you're fans of horror romps, this one delivers.
Anna I appreciated the Bowers side story. It's basically the only one from the book that made it onto the screen. I would have loved to have more of those juicy King side tales woven in, but at almost three hours, this film could really only handle the group's journey to destroy that evil clown once and for all. I have to say this film is a ton of fun—it's gross and hilarious (thank you, Bill Hader) and those pop-outs really did get me jumping a few times. They managed to take a lot of the good bits of the story and pump them up, while cutting some of the fat by pulling out some not-so-great moments that happened in the book (child orgy, anyone?). The final battle in the sewers of Derry is undeniably epic; Pennywise's scuttling form of gigantic spider/clown/scorpion is awesome. King even appears in a cameo as the grumpy owner of Secondhand Rose where Bill finds and buys his old bike, Silver, while on his quest to find his token for the ceremony. It's just a lot of fun all around—and a great way to watch the story unfold without dragging around the monster of a book. My recommendation is that you watch part one before heading to the theater—it'll help keep the characters straight from the beginning. Δ
Split Screen is written by Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and his wife, Anna. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.