I usually don’t combine reviews unless it’s a TV show, but since the two chapters of IT are clearly two halves of a whole, I decided to make an exception. Whereas the Stephen King book zig-zags between the child characters and they’re grown-up counterparts up to and including its climactic chapters, these modern film versions follow the same half-and-half structure as the 1990 made-for-TV original, with the kids’ story in the first half and the grown-ups’ story in the second.
1989, in the town of Derry, Maine, children are disappearing left, right, and center and turning up dead. No one knows who’s doing it. Or at least, no one can SEE who’s doing it. As seven pre-teen social outcasts band together to form what they call “The Losers Club”, they discover that it’s a powerful evil entity known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård), who they come to call “It”. It can make them see things that aren’t there, while remaining invisible to anyone that can help. But the Losers have strength of their own when they’re together, and they use that strength to track It to an old house and show It that they will not be scared into submission. Pennywise is defeated, Derry is safe, and the Losers make a promise to return if It ever comes back. 27 years after those horrific events, the Losers are all grown up and living far away from Derry. But the killings have started up again, and Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafah), the one Loser who stayed in Derry all this time, calls up his childhood friends to deliver the fateful news: It’s back.
Chapter 1: For horror fans, this was the breath of fresh air the genre needed. Well-written, well-acted, genuinely scary, and with high production values. Performances from the young actors are strong, evoking real sympathy for the Losers when they’re on their own and giving us coming-of-age fun and adventure when they’re in a group. The town of Derry feels both inviting and haunting at the same time; a perfect backdrop for what’s to come. Unpredictable danger lurks in every corner, whether it’s the supernatural Pennywise or the school bully, Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton). While most of the horror relies on jump scares, the scares are still inventive enough that they’re still entertaining even if they’re not very frightening. If I had any real complaints, it’s that the star of the show, Pennywise, doesn’t induce the fear and terror that he probably should as a horror movie villain. His overly-sinister look makes him totally unapproachable, so it pulls you out of the movie whenever kids fall for his “friendly clown” act. While he’s certainly entertaining and often unpredictable, he becomes less threatening the more we see him. Nevertheless, Chapter 1 is a well-made and intense horror film with strong characters and a show-stealing villain, the kind of movie that really takes this horror fan back to the good old days.
Chapter 2: Unfortunately, the second half of the story takes a bit of a downturn. 2hrs. and 50mins. is a lot to ask from a horror audience. Character development for the adult versions of the Losers is strong, if a bit lacking compared to Chapter 1 (I’m looking at you, Ben Hanscom [Jay Ryan]). Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise is used sparingly again, which in a movie this long is both a pro and a con. But the real scene-stealer this time around is Bill Hader as Richie Tozier, who delivers a compelling and nuanced performance that audiences will remember for years to come. The main point of Chapter 2 is for the Losers to reunite and band together to destroy It once and for all, so it’s a shame that so much of the movie is spent with the Losers apart and exploring the town alone, which adds more to the runtime than it does to the story. Humor is used in overabundance, some of which hits home but a lot of which breaks the horror momentum that could be better used to build to a frightening climax. Speaking of which, without giving anything away, the final scenes play less like a horror showdown and more like a set piece from Lord of the Rings. It’s action heavy, special effects heavy, and loaded with the aforementioned humor. Still, it all leads to a satisfying conclusion with a few surprises that left me genuinely impressed.
It: Chapters 1 & 2 are the kind of big-budget horror movies they don’t often make anymore. A lot of time and care is spent on developing the characters into three-dimensional people while telling a complete and epic monster story that spans 27 years, even if it gets a little too epic in its final moments. It would have been nice if they had ramped up the horror instead of the humor in the second half, but the casting in both chapters is so spot-on that you’ll probably find yourself riveted even when things are plodding along. All flaws aside, these are horror movies that people, and especially horror fans, will not soon forget.
3 out of 5