It Chapter Two: How Bill Hader and James Ransone Make This Unwieldy Epic Work. In a movie so obscenely packed with demon clowns, gory deaths, and forced drug trips to the Paleolithic Era, it’s hard to pinpoint a most “memorable” moment in IT Chapter Two. Director Andy Muschietti‘s sequel to his blockbuster 2017 Stephen King adaptation is a wieldy epic, two-hours-and-45 minutes of cosmic shape-shifting horror that’s as inconsistent as it is terrifying.
And yet, and yet, the moment that’s been stuck in my head since my first screening is a quiet one, in the stunned aftermath of a set-piece in the crumbling old house on Neibolt Street. It’s James Ransone as adult Eddie Kaspbrak explaining to Bill (James McAvoy) why he didn’t step in to fend off one of Pennywise’s (Bill Skarsgård) horrific apparitions, telling his friend he “just got really scared.”
God, it’s a heartbreaking bit of line delivery. On the surface, it comes off as over-the-top in its whiny, childlike pleading for Bill to just understand, but have you ever heard what someone sounds like when they are, in fact, really scared? It sounds like Ransone’s choice to make Eddie as helpless as possible. It’s by far the most human moment in a creature feature often sorely lacking for some humanity. When those moments come, it’s almost always courtesy of Ransone’s Eddie and Bill Hader‘s Richie Tozier, two performances that form the much-needed heart at the center of IT Chapter Two‘s mayhem.
I’ve been wrestling with this movie since the moment those end-credits started rolling; I thought the moral messaging of its ending was all over the place in regards to overcoming your demons and suicide-as-a-strategic-move, and I also think the middle of the movie loses itself to an unnecessary formula that mostly works to tell you info we already learned in Chapter One. But I also can’t quite shake the feeling that I…love IT Chapter Two? How could you not, when you’re seeing a major studio movie that delves into weird cosmic horror? When you get to watch a modern monster icon take shape—or, several shapes—thanks to Skarsgard’s Pennywise? Or when you get to spend time in a relationship as beautifully, subtly lived-in as the one between Eddie Kaspbrak and Richie Tozier?
This, of course, includes the film’s biggest deviation from King’s source novel, the reveal that Richie is a gay man who has lived his life in the closet, harboring feelings for his childhood friend Eddie. It’s a wonderful idea in theory; it acts as a full-circle companion to the film’s horrific opening, in which a gay man named Adrian Mellon (Xavier Dolan) is tossed off a bridge by a band of smalltown bigots and quickly dispatched by a waiting Pennywise, proof that the primordial clown-spirit’s evil runs deep through the veins of Derry and its people. In that light, Richie finally accepting his sexually should come hand-in-hand with Pennywise’s defeat, a figurative and literal triumph over his deepest-rooted fear. But IT Chapter Two can’t quite commit to the concept. After Eddie’s tragic death in It’s lair, we do see Richie carving his initials into that bridge next to his fallen friend’s, but we’re left wondering—unlike the rest of the Losers, whose futures are pretty clear—if that blissful moment of truth carries on into Richie’s post-Derry life.
But if the film doesn’t commit, Hader and Ransone do, and it’s a miracle to watch. We knew going in that these two would provide their fair share of whiz-bang banter and comic relief—it’s an SNL alum and freaking Ziggy from The Wire, come on—but it’s incredible the way both these actors navigate the subtler touches, not only between each other but in solo scenes. The slack-jawed look of sheer disbelief Hader locks on his face as Pennywise descends from atop a Paul Bunyan statue in a cloud of red balloons. The way Ransone turns a knife through the cheek courtesy of Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) into something darkly slap-sticky, like a one-scene guest-directing spot by Sam Raimi. This isn’t to say the rest of the Adult Losers don’t put in mighty performances—the casting on this movie is so insane I’m still marveling at the way Jay Ryan and Jeremy Ray Taylor somehow look nothing alike but also exactly alike—but Hader and Ransone provide flourishes that sell fear in an extremely human way, that type of feel-it-in-your bones, real-life fear that drives the
It all culminates in what is, to me, the linchpin moment of their emotional arcs. The beat comes moments after Eddie dies—after he delivers one last dig about fucking his friend’s mom, of course—when Richie simply refuses to believe his friend is dead. It’s simple, but Hader fills the moment with such a stubborn, aching realness. Both movies in the IT saga are so much about the power of belief, the type of belief strong enough to kill monsters and change a person for good, and here is a man so hurt on a human level he won’t believe what’s right in front of him. That, simply put, is the one story at the center of IT Chapter Two strong enough to make the whole thing work.