Spoiler warning: major spoilers ahead
Trigger warning: mentions of hate crimes, suicide, and intimate partner violence (IPV)
As you can probably tell by the title of this article, I recently saw Stephen King’s It Chapter Two—and I was not a fan.
If you aren’t familiar with the It franchise, these two movies are directed by Andy Muschietti and based on the book by horror novelist Stephen King. It Chapter Two is a nearly three hour film that leaps 27 years forward after Chapter One, following the story of seven old friends who must reunite in order to re-confront Pennywise, an ancient, evil spirit in the form of a disturbing-looking clown that has returned to terrorize the characters’ quaint hometown of Derry, Maine. Pennywise preys on the deepest fears of the protagonists, psychologically (and occasionally physically) tormenting them. Though Pennywise is a supernatural being, in truth he serves as a metaphor for the human evil that infests Derry (and small-town America in general). King aims to show that, rather than a killer clown, the true villain we should all see in our nightmares is the immorality and wickedness of human nature.
Now, honestly, I am all here for this message. I think it is refreshing to see a horror movie with a deeper meaning, a thriller that comments on society through its spooky soundtrack and jump scares. And I must confess—I LOVED the first It movie. As someone who is a horror movie fanatic and rarely finds herself scared while watching them, It Chapter One had me on the edge of my seat. I thought the plot was intriguing, the characters were dynamic, likable, and had incomparable chemistry, and, as I said, I respected the metaphor. It is not surprising, then, that I was extremely excited to see It Chapter Two when I heard it was out in theatres. What is surprising, is that (as I have made it clear) I was deeply, deeply disappointed after seeing It Chapter Two. Here is why I feel as though that movie wasted 3 hours of my time and about 36 more in terms of my mental sanity.
1. Unnecessary and Potentially Triggering Real-World Violence
Homophobic Hate Crime Scene
It Chapter Two opens up with a scene of a gay couple at a carnival in the oh-so-quaint-and-severely-fucked-up town where this whole thing takes place: Derry, Maine. The gay couple is simply going about their lives, playing carnival games and being affectionate, when some homophobic assholes surround them. The gay couple is verbally harassed, and then the hateful gang proceeds to physically beat one of the gay men. It doesn’t stop there, however. The gang beats the man to the point of this face being so bloody it is unrecognizable, and throws him off of a bridge and into a river, brutally murdering him—all while his boyfriend is watching.
This scene apparently serves the purpose of showing that the evil spirits that infest Derry are back and stronger than ever, inciting violence in an already corrupt town. Call me overdramatic, naïve, sensitive, or whatever you want, but personally, I think that the return of Pennywise could have been demonstrated in a number of ways other than a heinous hate crime. This scene seemed like such unnecessary violence that was way too real to open up a horror movie about a killer clown. As someone who identifies within the LGBTQ+ community, I was deeply upset by the brutality, graphicness, and extreme grotesqueness of this scene. I am sick of gay characters in cinema having no more value than to further the plotline. I am sick of senseless violence against the LGBTQ+ community being thrown into movies where it doesn’t belong, because, unfortunately, it is already far too much of a reality.
At the very beginning of the movie, upon receiving the news that Pennywise is back, Jewish character Stanley (played by Andy Bean) ends his own life. This drama was not only simply unnecessary but also, it was treated as a pivotal part of the plotline. As the movie continues on, the protagonists treat Stanley’s death as something that had to happen in order for them to move on and confront Pennywise. I simply do not see how that could be the case, and regarding suicide as a “necessary” event is certainly not the best message. Especially since it’s not as if the rest of the story somehow unravels because of his death—no, he just dies, for no apparent reason other than to add to the turmoil of the other characters. The worst part about this unfortunate and careless plot point is at a later part in the film, when while discussing Stanley’s death, Bill Hader’s character, Richie (who for the most part I actually consider to be the only good, entertaining part of this film) distastefully stated that Stanely killed himself because Pennywise got to him first, as he was never “as strong” as the rest of the protagonists. This is highly problematic, because, although this is a fictional horror movie, it is never acceptable to ignore the painful, complex emotions, thoughts, and mental health issues that lead to someone’s decision to attempt suicide.
2. Lack of Development for Minority/Traditionally Underrepresented Characters
Out of the seven protagonists in this movie, I was bothered by the portrayal of four of them—the traditionally underrepresented characters specifically. Unfortunately for these characters, their minority status may have gotten in the way of real character development in some cases and a happy life in others.
As I mentioned earlier in the article, one of the minority characters, Stanley, had no time for character development, as he was immediately killed off in the worst way possible. The fate of the other three characters was not much better.
The only person-of-color protagonist in the film, Mike (played by Isaiah Mustafa), may bring the gang back together and lead the advance of the story, but he received no personal development at all. There is a sequence at some point in the middle of the movie (it is hard to keep track while sitting through a three-hour trainwreck) where each character must dive deep into their memories to collect a token from their childhood, in order to complete an Indigenous ritual that will stop Pennywise. Interestingly enough, Mike is the only one who does not have to go through this intense trip down memory lane that is used as a way to develop each character. Mike is therefore only used to reunite the “Losers” and repeatedly tell them what to do, serving not as a character but as nothing but a tool to further the storyline.
Though there are no Indigenous characters in the film, there are mentions of “Native Americans” who helped Mike understand the evil spirit of Pennywise, or It, and provided him with knowledge of an ancient tribal ritual that would kill the demon. This plot point truly came out of nowhere, and seemed to me especially aggravating when, in the end, the Losers realize the ritual was pointless anyway. However, the far-fetched randomness of this ancient ritual as the solution to confronting It is not even my main qualm with this. Similarly to Mike, the mentioned Native Americans played no other role in the film other than to advance the plot. It Chapter Two portrayed a stereotypical, nondescript image of Indigenous Peoples that has been, unfortunately, used far too many times before.
Now, let’s talk about Bill Hader’s character, Richie. Through flashbacks and hints throughout the movie, Richie is revealed to be gay and in love with one of his fellow members of the Losers’ Club, Eddie (James Ransone). The film’s stance on queer representation could have potentially been redeemed after the insensitive and brutal homophobic hate crime scene if they had handled Richie’s sexuality in a more positive way. Though this certainly wasn’t the worst thing about It Chapter Two, it still bothered me greatly that the only gay main character had to struggle with his sexuality and remain in the closet for his whole life, only to have his best friend and his secret love interest die. This would not have been quite as bothersome were it not for the murder scene earlier in the movie, but on top of that, it was just pretty depressing. Apparently, in the It universe, queer people simply cannot have happy endings.
As if all of this wasn’t bad enough, the only female lead in It Chapter Two was treated just the same. Beverly, played by Jessica Chastain, simply had no characteristics, personality traits, or life events that did not revolve around a man. As a child (in Chapter One and the flashbacks), she is defined by her abusive father; at the beginning of Chapter Two, she is defined by her abusive husband; and by the end of the movie, she is defined by her love triangle with both Bill (James McAvoy) and Ben (Jay Ryan). It is sad enough that in a film with seven protagonists only one of them is female, but her flat, undeveloped, misogynistic character arc (or lack thereof) was, although unfortunately unsurprising, greatly disappointing.
As someone who spent 2 hours and 50 minutes of her life in a dark, nearly-empty theatre in Mount Vernon, Ohio watching It Chapter Two, I would strongly advise that you do not do the same. If you desperately need to fulfill your desire to get lost in a tub of popcorn, I recommend you watch… literally any other movie. Even if you enjoyed the first It, you will likely be just as disappointed and disturbed as I was after watching Chapter Two.