• Ben Erickson

It Chapter Two

It's not everyday I get this excited to return to a horror franchise, but boy oh boy is Pennywise the Dancing Clown ever a compelling character. Taking place 27 years after the events of the first film when the Loser's Club defeated Pennywise, It Chapter Two calls them back to the town of Derry, Maine when the cycle begins again. Andy Muschietti returned to the director's chair to conclude part-two of his supernatural Stephen King adaptation, and resuming his position in the composer's studio was Benjamin Wallfisch, who since the 2017 It has been kept busy with Shazam!, Hellboy, and the Hostile Planet documentary scores. Despite all of the other great work he has done in film, the It scores are probably my favourite of Wallfisch's efforts. The music maintains a wonderful balance between elated optimism and crushing fearfulness, and the conflict between these emotions within the score is where the real magic exists, unapologetically twisting the gut of the viewer at a moment's notice. I feel it is important to think of It Chapter Two as a continuation of the same work here. Not just as a sequel score that maintains the musical continuity of its predecessor, but one that carries and builds that legacy to astounding new heights. On listening to the new score for the first time, it was observing this level of commitment that made my anticipation for the in-film experience almost overwhelming. Said Wallfisch,

“One of our earliest discussions for the new score was how we could take what we did for the first movie and give it more scale and ambition – to reflect the scope of the film.”

Naturally this discussion led to the use of a bigger orchestra, something that could grapple with the epic forces of darkness when they revealed themselves. The narrative symmetry between It Chapter Two and the original would also broaden the scope by retroactively defining musical figures written for It into thematic material. Among these themes are those used for the town of Derry, the English nursery rhyme 'Oranges and Lemons', a motif for Pennywise – or the 'IT' creature, if you will – and more, which we will discuss presently. There is so much that goes into this score structurally and in its use of performance techniques that it is almost difficult to know where to begin... perhaps where it all started. Derry. The Derry theme is a recurring musical setting throughout each film ("27 Years Later"), opening with a strong phrase in G major before almost immediately taking a chromatic turn, reminding us of the silent arrangement between Pennywise and the town. The malevolent undertones never fully dissipate from the soft-spoken piano, concealing the evil hidden within its queer progress, and atypical of its cohorts the Derry theme remains static and undeveloped, reflecting the unchanging nature of the town itself. The one exception being a curtailed variation heard at the end of It Chapter Two ("Goodbye"), where a proper G major cadence signals the end of the nightmare. The English nursery rhyme and a separate motif besides belong to the titular character, Pennywise, both restored from the first film. The former, using a children's chorus, signifies the souls of the children Pennywise has claimed as they spin a cautionary tale, and more often than not marks his seemingly omniscient presence. It can also be heard in the orchestra on occasion, such as when he lures out a young girl at a baseball game early on ("Firefly"). The latter is related more directly to Pennywise, and often heralds his appearance in various guises. For instance, in the "Firefly" cue (around 1:51) we encounter a slippery, floating rendition of the motif performed using string harmonics, while "Back to Neibolt" issues a repetitious, rising testament to Pennywise's power with the melody trading instruments. You might even say it climbs endlessly like a free floating balloon. Pennywise also has a more subtle association with musical settings in triple meter, which in turn effects many of the structured and motivic elements of the score. Assumedly, this association is derived from Pennywise's favoured form, the clown, and its carnival roots; that is, circus music. Bands playing foxtrots, waltzes, and the like. A clear example of this can be heard when Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) targets Richie, with an outrageous, out-of-tune waltz performed by what sounds like a children's band ("Dirty Little Secret"). Amusingly, rather than crediting Skarsgård on the soundtrack album, Pennywise himself is presented as the featured artist.

A key element of Wallfisch's score, so far as horror is concerned, is sound design. While the majority of the score employs natural acoustics, many of the most intense moments of fear use heavy manipulation to disorient the viewer, bombarding them with an unremitting onslaught of sound in order to effectively paralyze them with fear. The earliest example of this we come across can be heard in "Come Home", with the last 30 seconds or so of the cue entering into a nauseating electronic throb as Mike takes in the same words – 'Come Home' – written in blood beneath a bridge. The sickening sight is brought on with a sudden monstrous scream in the music, a system shock that preludes the demented children's singing, ending as abruptly as it began; the effectiveness of which rests in the brevity of their almost alien appearance.

Aleatoric music, extended techniques, and fringe instruments had a hand to play, too. Whether a toy piano (possibly a dulcitone), nails on a chalkboard – replicated with bows that would literally tear at the bridge of the strings, erupting French horns, or stomping, sawing, and heaving musical metaphors from the full ensemble, there was no lack of conventional horror techniques either. This is especially true of the score once the Loser's Club begin their descent into Pennywise's lair, entering the final sequence of the film.

Part of this sequence involves "The Ritual of Chüd", foreshadowed earlier in "The Library", where we step firmly into the world of epic music. This, and the cues to follow, comprise the scale to which Wallfisch was referring. A level of volume and dread unmatched by anything from the 2017 It score as the Deadlights – or rather, Pennywise's true form – descend into the chasm where the Loser's Club attempt to perform the ritual. The word 'operatic' comes to mind, as it so often does in circumstances such as these, when the stakes need to be heightened. The brass instruments warp and swell; the strings twist, curl, and writhe, as if they are on fire; and the chorus erupts like a spewing volcano, with Wagnerian strings descending into the cacophony of woodwinds as the ritual is performed. Not long after in the "My Heart Burns There Too" cue, performed as Ben professes his love for Beverly, we hear the last lines of the 'Oranges and Lemons' nursery rhyme, which until now had not appeared in the score. Further related (if loosely) to the Ritual of Chüd is the "Shokopiwah" cue, performed earlier in the film when the ritual is first divulged by the First Nations Shokopiwah tribe. The cue uses moaning vocals in a loose imitation of First Nations musical traditions.

Several tranquil gestures returned from the first film in addition to the evil motifs discussed prior, including the texture during which the Loser's Club made their pact to come back to Derry should the creature return ("I Swear, Bill"). This texture uses falling flute arpeggiations, with an additional flute providing a wistful melody, and there are two other gestures we have yet to discuss. The first was that written for Georgie ("Silver Bullet"), evoking the feel of a downcast, gloomy atmosphere that transports us back to the fateful day on which Georgie died, and the second was that written for Beverly ("Nothing Lasts Forever"), skipping along in the euphoria of friendship. It is worth noting that both of these gestures use solo piano, and that they are the only figures to do so outside of the relatively harmless theme for Derry, subconsciously relating the piano as a musical representation of safety.

As far as the film goes, It Chapter Two was neither as good nor as scary as the 2017 It, but as far the score is concerned the music never dropped in quality between films for a second. Furthermore, it is easy to discern that the music was genuinely the most frightening part of the film. If one were to watch a casual horror movie without music, it would make for a lousy and unsatisfying experience. If one were to watch It Chapter Two without music, they might think they had just watched a comedy.