The leaves are turning brown, the moon is looming larger, and a chorus of creepy children are beginning to sing their lullabies: for those averse to sunshine and blue skies, Halloween season finally appears to be upon us. With the cobwebs and jack-o-lanterns comes a glut of twisted tales gracing our big screens - none seemingly as epic in scope as IT: Chapter 2, New Line Cinema’s conclusion to Andy Muschietti’s wildly popular adaptation of the Stephen King classic.
The horror maestro’s tome of terror notoriously tells its expansive story of The Losers Club battling a demented, otherworldly clown named Pennywise across 27 years, careening back and forth from childhood to adulthood, conjuring scares both psychological and literal over decades. Much has been made of Muschietti’s decision to divide the narrative between “then” and “now” - the novel’s most resolute fans clamoring that it destroys the juxtaposition of terror across these characters’ lives. Not only that, but it also threatens to diminish King’s reflection on the nature of childhood trauma and how it ripples into the future.
Throttled by the hype of the release, I was speculating with some friends about the promise of a sequel that could mine more adult territory; we thought that the horror on screen could evolve to a plane beyond some visceral jump-scares, beyond the Amblin-esque energy on display in the first film. Don’t get me wrong, there’s certainly pleasures to be had in the spooky funhouse aesthetic of the first chapter. Still, the scary stories that haunt my imagination most tend to suggest more than they show - they scare me because of what’s implied, they scare me because they trap me in a loop with said terror, tapping into something primordial deep within. King himself has been known to plumb the depths behind terror in his writing, so why couldn’t a studio adaptation reach for something similar?
I realize now it’s foolish to trust a studio to trust its own audience.
“They loved the first one, so why not give ‘em more?” thought the folks at New Line. More is more until it’s nothing at all, though, and Chapter 2 feels like a whole lot of nothing - 170 minutes-worth, to be exact. There’s not much of a new anchor in this sequel beyond the incessant need for more set-pieces, more CGI, more music to push the senses into overdrive, and eventually back to atrophy. I personally engaged with the first film because I cared for the journey of The Losers Club - feeling Bill’s guilt over his brother’s death, yearning for Beverly’s revenge on her abusive father. The kids may have effectively hit every character archetype in existence, but bullying, loss and, fear are universal enough.
It’s true there’s some lip-service paid to Bill, Beverly, and the other Losers’ journeys in the new film, but on such a shallow scale. Their arcs hit the same divets in the same road, plateauing in the process. Time tends to intensify our memories, our childhood fears - the big scary monster might make us jump when we’re all grown up, but what if they threaten our loved ones, our sense of safety, our faith, our understanding of the very fabric of this world?
What we tend to fear most is what we don’t understand - the loss of a loved one, the violation of our homes and bodies, the nightmares we can’t wake ourselves up from. I had hoped that Chapter 2 could play into these themes, that the movie might not wrap a bow on everything and give us something to take home and into our psyches. No one walks away from trauma; we only distort our perception and cling to distractions to alleviate our fears. There is no destroying fear, just the acceptance of it - because to live life fearless is to understand that bad things happen to everyone, that no one is safe from the boogeyman. Everyone floats eventually.