One way to start a deeply critical review begins with, “I had so much faith.”

And I did. I was so impressed by the first half of this remake that I thought there was no way the halfhearted comments I heard from fans ‘round the globe could be true. Stephen King fans are overcritical, right?

Another way to begin deeply critical reviews is, “I don’t know where to begin.”

And I don’t. The sad fact is that It Chapter Two is not a bad movie: its well-made, well-acted, well-directed, it had well-designed special effects. It could use focus and editing, and could cut down on awkward cheap laughs and desperate jump scares, but this is inoffensive. What is offensive is the social commentary the film tries to make…well…backfires. Deep down, the film doesn’t have the moral compass it wishes it does.

I don’t know where to begin. I had so much faith.

What Went Right About Chapter One

I’m not going over the whole plot of the film because if you don’t know it, Stephen King’s books could use a read, and the 1990 miniseries deserves a watch.

Here’s what makes the remake superior to the miniseries, at least in the first chapter: the adults are monsters.

The original story establishes adults know the Clown will take children and turn a blind eye to it every 27-year cycle. They impose a mass amnesia on themselves and accept children will be sacrificed until It is done feeding. The survivor children become adults and, in collective denial, prepare their children to potentially be sacrifices to it, or, conversely, try to protect them from it. The cycle of abuse continues.

They drug their children to make sure they never go out (you don’t have asthma, Eddie, you’re being drugged!) They groom their children to be victims of child molestation and incest (dad’s a predator, Beverly!) They teach them to accept casual racism and be a “good black,” else risk getting hurt (don’t listen, Mike!)

Pennywise morphs into forms that reflect the real-life horrors they face. Eddie sees a leper/zombie because he’s afraid of illness. How does he fight? Telling Mom he knows she’s drugged him. Beverly sees a blood fountain because she’s afraid of her period; she knows her dad will take physical and verbal abuse to a sexual level. How does she fight? Smashing Dad with a sink. Mike hears screams and sees hands pulling at locked doors because his parents were killed in the fire he survived. How does he fight? Cornering Pennywise in the burnt-down house.

The children stand powerful against the Clown. They’re mighty because they’ve done something the previous generation couldn’t. They took action to escape abuse and challenge the cycle directly.

So much went right in Chapter One. I had so much faith.

So how did Chapter Two go wrong? Warning: spoilers for all It films and the book.

Homophobia and the Problem with Ritchie

You probably know a violent gay bashing opens this film. Believe it or not, I’m fine with that: this is how homophobic violence should happen on screen. It commemorates a deeply disturbing event that occurred when Charlie Howard who was killed in a similar incident when attacked by three Bangor teens in 1984. The attack was motivated by homophobia. I shouldn’t be okay with seeing this on screen; I’m queer, after all. But I am okay because real-life violence gains power if you silence it.

But that’s not where this movie’s relationship with homophobia ends.

Spoilers: Ritchie became a successful, loudmouthed stand-up comedian. He’s also the doubter and opposite to Bill and Mike’s seemingly wild-eyed faith. We need his doubt; we would doubt we could forget such a wild threat as the children faced in Pennywise. It’s relatable because many victims of abuse doubt their own memories.

But here’s a change: Ritchie is a closeted gay man and had it going on for Eddie all along.

It makes sense, actually. His endless teasing in childhood (and adulthood) were haphazard attempts at flirtation. The not so visible initials carved on the bridge are R+E: Ritchie plus Eddie.

I had such hope for this revelation. Of course it would be Ritchie (perfectly cast as Bill Hader), because he’s the one who hides behind his constant injurious humor. How else do you best hide?

Pennywise uses Ritchie’s shame to try to scare him into inaction: Ritchie’s deepest fear is that he’ll be outed in both his professional life and to his friends, too.

This is deeply relatable; I spent years waiting to come out for the same reasons. We all have comfort in our lives we don’t wanna disturb by coming out.

Here is where things go wrong.

Remember how in the miniseries Eddie is killed by Pennywise? It happens in this one, too.

Ritchie could have whispered “I love you,” as his unrequited love passes, but they exchanged “I fucked your mom” jokes. It doesn’t seem serious, then it is, and it’s too late.

Why? Bill and Mike say “I love you” to each other at the end of the film. They’re fine because they’re straight men expressing affection to each other. But a gay man saying “I love you?” Nope.

It’s tragic, it hurts, Ritchie won’t stop being an emotional wreck, his friends comfort him during a nostalgic swim at the lake. Losers accept and support each other.

So what’s missing?

You know what is missing? Ritchie hasn’t taken even the opportunity to face his fears of telling the Losers he’s gay. He possibly stays closeted in his professional life, too.

The Losers encourage us to be true to themselves. But at the roundup at the end of the movie, there’s no montage of him coming out in his professional life. The stand-up community needs more queer comedians, especially ones with no filter. He does re-carve the initials on the bridge, but that doesn’t mean he’s come to terms with his fears and processed them.

What this movie ultimately says is homophobia is bad, but internalized homophobia is legit.

I’m asking a lot, aren’t I? But you know what happens when you can’t face your fears?

That’s right…you float down there. Did Pennywise steal Ritchie? Don’t look into the deadlights…

Stan and the Benevolent Suicide?

Remember how Stan commits suicide in the bathtub to avoid going back to Derry after hearing Mike’s phone call? It’s gruesome, it’s nasty, it’s tragic, and it’s unfathomable: it’s suicide.

We understand why, actually. Stan and the others are so terrified to remember trauma; Stan does the ultimate to avoid it. It happens to victims of abuse often.

But it isn’t the sane or right or moral choice on Stan’s part. It’s just Pennywise winning, making the Losers weaker; Pennywise taunts the remaining Losers by leaving them the message in their fortune cookies. Maybe it’s just depression at its worst.

But in Chapter Two, we get a letter from Stan. It was written and apparently mailed between the time he got the phone call and he slashed his wrists. He explains he knew they had to fight the Clown as a team, he knew he’d weaken the team, so he avoided weakening the team.

I think any mental health professional would bash their head against a wall.

It Chapter Two justifies suicide.

Portraying suicide is graphic enough—it can trigger those suffering from depression—so putting forwards the idea that Stan takes one for the team…

Know what Stan’s letter sounds like? Every suicide note ever. “The world will be stronger without me, I drag everyone down, the team/humanity is improved with my absence, this isn’t a suicide note, it’s a suicide note.”

It would have been better to just leave his suicide without explanation or justification, and certainly not make it sound like a “good” decision. Because people considering suicide (and someone ends it every 40 seconds, according to global statistics) do not need a movie representing a “benevolent” suicide. I had such faith. I don’t know where to begin.

The What-Who-Why Tribe? The Trouble with Mike

Of course, what we’re needing in this story is a way to defeat Pennywise once and for all, and we have an answer: Mike, the Loser who calls the rest back to Derry, has conveniently hung out with a Native American tribe who is the only one who has ever faced It successfully before.

Who are they? Well, they’re the mystical Shokopiwah tribe, who share their rituals with Mike and show him through magic and drugs how to defeat the creature.

Mike shares his visions with Bill, the only Loser who will believe what he has to say, by drugging his water glass with a “root.” We’re supposed to forget the fact that he effectively party-drugged Bill’s without his consent. It is oddly reminiscent of spiking a girl’s drink.

The vision they share are short, but effective. The Shokopiwah tribe figured out how to summon Pennywise in a tangible form, but the tribe was destroyed by the process because you know, It is so powerful. But the ritual in the vision was what Mike needed. He conveniently has the artifact they need, too.

Mike knows how to best defeat It now, and he’s convinced that he can do it better than the entire Shokopiwah tribe. The Losers use the ritual successfully; only one of them get destroyed.

I don’t know where to begin. There’s no Shokopiwah tribe; the writers used “Native Americans” as a plot device. A trope, if you will. It’s not one that’s unknown in Stephen King’s work, but that doesn’t make it forgivable (do better, Kingster, please). You insert a fantasy group of indigenous people to spice up a plot…

And why would they trust Mike with this sacred information? ‘Cause he’s the town historical librarian? Um…because he’s black? Is this the “it can’t be cultural appropriation because a black person does it” moment?

What “root” are they using? Peyote comes from the Southwest United States and Mexico, ayahuasca is indigenous to the South American rainforest, iboga comes from Africa. If they were doing belladonna, they’d be ripped for at least a week. They might be on amantria mushrooms, but I’d be more likely to believe that Mike dropped some LSD in the water glass.

These errors would be okay if this weren’t supposed to be a sacrament. Then I remember also that it belongs to a made-up tribe the writers of this film created because…flush out the plot?

It reminds of how people talk at Burning Man; they’ll try to convince you they’re authentically indigenous because…

The fact that Mike is the one doing it doesn’t make the fact that writers invented a culture as a plot device okay. It almost suggests they’re trying to make the argument that because Mike is black, everything is fine. It’s the “but my main character is black” argument. This is possibly worse than cultural appropriation alone.

Literally everyone knows better than this. Writers, you’re probably getting zero brownie points from real indigenous tribes.

Ben and the Fat Jokes

So Ben comes back as a brickhouse. No change from book material or miniseries there; he’s shed the pounds in the place of a muscular, studly frame that, which, while not being overtly sexy, definitely shows off he’s put in the time and effort for self-improvement while on his way to becoming a world famous architect.

It really shouldn’t matter that he lost the weight: the Losers would have accepted him no matter what. The Losers club accepted the new kid in town, the “fat” kid, on his own strengths. But change is good; Ben’s friends naturally congratulate him on the improvement after the 27-year hiatus.

But I squirmed in my seat a few times when Ritchie teases Eddie concerning his dearly departed mom on the same old body shaming joke: yo’ momma’s so fat. He later makes a point in saying that Eddie has more courage than he believes because he “married a woman ten times his body mass.” Eddie agrees with this statement.

These moments are small, and they’re coming from a man whose stage name is Ritchie Trashmouth, but I can’t help but wonder how Ben feels about these jokes. Ritchie might be speaking out of some misplaced sadness or anger that he can’t confess his feelings for Eddie and so attacks the two women who have meant the most to him, which…still isn’t cool.

Here’s the point in context: Losers don’t judge on appearances. That’s what keeps them together. If someone in the group cracks a fat joke, guess who they sound like? Bowers, the bully.

Does the fact that Ben lost the weight allow for these other weight-related jabs? The fact nobody says anything about it makes me wonder where that moral tenacity has gone.

Here’s a hint: body positivity has been around a while, and it’s not a bad thing. Increasingly, “your momma’s so fat” said by anyone without the weight is body shaming. Even if it’s coming from Ritchie Trashmouth, no matter his intentions. The fact that neither Ben nor Eddie threatened to smack him surprised me.

Pennywise and Bill: Bully Your Fears to Death?

Anybody who has ever struggled with negative, debilitating self-talk knows it’s a total fucking bitch; pardon my French. I have chronic depression; I know fears and insecurity can rule me if I let them. I’ve let them before. Pennywise knows it. The Losers know it; they’re ready to fight.

We’ve heard it over and over in a variety of self-help books, podcasts, and seminars; fight your fears, battle demons like a boss. It’d be easier if your demons were literal, huh?

This makes sense; whole morality systems are kept in place by the variety of baddies mankind’s created. They become mythologies, religions, folklores, superstitions. Find a demon you can’t defeat? A virtue even bigger will (hopefully) emerge to match it.

Nowadays, we conjure traumas and neurosis in place of demons. They’re not real entities, we tell ourselves: they’re fears. If our minds create them, our minds also can uncreate them.

Pennywise is a creation of the mind; he’s becomes the most threatening neuroses, traumas, and fears in any person’s mind. (He’s also a being who came from a different dimension, but that’s a structure of the Stephen King Universe. Look it up. I digress.)

So the Losers are fighting Pennywise in the basement of the same burnt house Mike’s parents died in (does OSHA not operate in Derry?) and Pennywise is giant; their adult neuroses, fears, and complexes are more repressed than their child traumas were, so Pennywise is oversized.

Pennywise reveals the ritual resulted in the tribe’s destruction. Mike left that out when he explained it. The Losers confront Mike; Pennywise proclaims himself an “eater of worlds.”

Eddie, who is wounded, remembers Pennywise was a leper. He seemed smaller, easier to defeat; he almost defeated Pennywise with his bare hands. Why? He knows he’s not sick.

Bill should already know this; his personal hell, represented by a room of his own in the basement, had the spirit of his dead brother Georgie and a Child Bill upbraid him for Georgie’s death. Child Bill is more menacing, holding a BB gun weapon to adult Bill’s head, claiming their destruction is the only fair way to practice “eye for an eye” justice for Georgie.

Bill tries to approach Child Bill’s self-hatred with understanding and compassion. Child Bill never intended for Georgie to get hurt; he wanted some selfish time away from his brother on one day, and Pennywise attacked and consumed Georgie. He offers Child Bill an embrace.

I was floored; finally, someone making the right statement in this movie. WOW! The only way to conquer our fears and self-hatred is through self-compassion…

He fires a BB into Child Bill’s forehead. I had such faith. I don’t know where to begin.

‘Cause truth is, fighting demons isn’t the metaphor to use for psychological issues. Sure, you can try to battle and berate your inner enemies into submission. Some therapies encourage exactly that. But most therapists will tell you this results in trading fears for self-destructive rage; it’s not an effective trade and won’t lead to self-love. Only compassion can do that.

But now the Losers are onto something; bully and berate Pennywise, make him small, same way bullies used to make them small! With five voices against Pennywise’s one, they impose their insecurities, fears, traumas, and self-hating messages back onto the Clown. It works. The Clown shrinks, first down to man’s size, then smaller, until he is baby, then fetus-sized. They are able to pluck the tiny, beating heart from him and crush it together.

I’m sorry, Bill and Losers…guess what? Pennywise got his way; the self-hating messages you all used to defeat your demon will become anger issues. Becoming a bully doesn’t make you a strong, self-loving adult: it just means you’re on the other end of the stick for now.

But, of course, the roundup misses this. We assume everyone has succeeded. Ben and Beverly, the new couple (the only thing the movie did right) ride off into the sunset, Bill goes back to his book and leaves his condescending wife and Hollywood, Mike prepares to leave Derry, and Ritchie does or doesn’t come out, though he re-carves the initials. This is supposed to line up with the Hallmark card messages the kids would have given the adult selves.

We’ll See You in 27 Years, Losers

Congratulations to Ben and Beverly, the Losers in the group who correctly contested their fears!

In the depths of Pennywise’s illusions, while being menaced by, respectively, a collapsing clubhouse and a blood-filled bathroom stall, they repeat the lines of the poem to one another, which allows them to reach each other and break Pennywise’s power. They confront the fear of rejection at last, and accepting the years lost and not resenting them.

The lack of resentment is key. Ben doesn’t mind that Beverly spent the past 27 years believing Bill had authored the poem. Beverly discovered Bill wasn’t the poet when they share a kiss. But she knows Ben’s authorship when she kisses him instead; the chemistry is obvious.

But guess what, remaining Losers: Bill, Mike, and Ritchie? Nice try. The Clown is alive and kicking in you all and will be back to feast on your fears, and the rest of the town’s population, after the next hibernation. Pennywise lives in your inability to approach your fears, foibles, and flaws with maturity and emotional nuance, sadly, and for this, the cycle of pain will continue for the town of Derry.

I have a proposal: It Chapter Three. I’m sorry, I think it might be the best one yet. I mean, how hilarious would it be to hear a 70-year-old Ritchie Trashmouth face Pennywise a third time?