Home > Reviews > IT: CHAPTER TWO – Benjamin Wallfisch

IT: CHAPTER TWO – Benjamin Wallfisch

September 10, 2019 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Director Andy Muschietti’s adaptation of the classic Stephen King horror novel It was an enormous, unexpected success when it hit cinemas in the late summer of 2017. For a generation prior Tim Curry’s 1990 portrayal of Pennywise, the murderous shape-shifting entity terrorizing the residents of a small New England town, was the gold standard, but Bill Skarsgård’s new take on the character looks destined to become just as iconic. Off the back of his performance It became the second-highest grossing R-rated horror movie of all time (after The Exorcist), and re-kindled interest in King’s stories by becoming the highest grossing adaptation of one of his novels, knocking 1999’s The Green Mile into second place. It also made stars of its cast of excellent teenage actors, including Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, and Sophia Lillis.

It: Chapter Two is not really a sequel to the original film, but is simply an adaptation of the second half of the novel. 27 years have passed since the events of the first film, in which the seven teenage members of the Losers Club successfully vanquished Pennywise the Dancing Clown, the evil entity that had been preying on the children of Derry, Maine. Bill (originally Jaeden Lieberher, now played by James McAvoy as an adult) is a horror novelist married to an actress; Richie (Finn Wolfhard, Bill Hader as an adult) is a stand-up comedian in Los Angeles; Beverly (Sophia Lillis, Jessica Chastain as an adult) is a fashion designer, but suffers at the hands of an abusive husband; Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jay Ryan as an adult) is no longer overweight and is a successful architect; Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer, James Ransone as an adult) is a New York businessman dominated by a wife who has a similar personality to his over-protective mother; and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff, Andy Bean as an adult) has a wife and family, and like the others has mostly forgotten the events of his childhood. Everything changes when they each receive a phone call from Mike (Chosen Jacobs, Isaiah Mustafa as an adult), begging them to return home. Mike was the only member of the gang to stay in Derry and he has spent the last two decades researching Pennywise, with the knowledge that one day he may come back. His message to the other members of the Club is simple: Pennywise has indeed returned, and the friends must come together one final time to defeat him for good.

The thing that makes the It movies so great is that they are not just horror movies. Although Pennywise is a truly evil entity, and there are scares a-plenty, what makes these films stand out are the characters. Building from the realistic portrayal of childhood friendship from the first movie, screenwriter Gary Dauberman allows the adult relationships to develop organically from these original characters. There are so many themes that are touched upon and examined, using the horror of Pennywise as a metaphor: survivor’s guilt, emerging sexuality, sexual abuse and spousal abuse, bullying, homophobia, suppressed memories, and so much more. Come for the blood and shocking imagery, certainly, but stay for the sensitively rendered explorations of all types of childhood trauma by an excellent cast; Bill Hader, Jessica Chastain, and James Ransone give especially nuanced and moving performances.

Another thing which contributed enormously to the success of the first It movie was the score, by the brilliant Benjamin Wallfisch, and so of course he is back for the sequel. It’s been a truly tremendous couple of years for the young Englishman, who received a Golden Globe nomination for his score for Hidden Figures in 2016, a BAFTA nomination for Blade Runner 2049 in 2017, and wrote outstanding music for movies such as A Cure for Wellness, Mully, Bitter Harvest, King of Thieves, and Shazam, among many others. He has been especially successful in the horror genre, and with these two It scores, he has now well and truly cemented himself onto film music’s A-List for the foreseeable future. The score for Chapter Two is, basically, a continuation of the score for Chapter One, and it contains many recurring elements. The lyrical themes for the memory of Georgie and the character of Beverly are present, but the score is built mostly around statements of and variations on the Derry theme, the creepy-pretty motif that characterizes the town itself, its inhabitants, and the terrible symbiotic relationship between Pennywise, Derry, and his victims.

Speaking of Pennywise, the screaming electronic manipulation of the ‘It Noise’ is back to accompany the various shocking appearances of the sadistic clown, as is the disturbing ‘Oranges and Lemons’ chant which returns as a marker for when the various apparitions and monsters appear to torment the members of the Losers club. As a reminder, the lyrics chanted by the children are taken from a centuries-old English children’s nursery rhyme whose lyrics include lines such as ‘Oranges and lemons say the bells of St. Clement’s’ and ‘here comes a chopper to chop off your head’. Wallfisch recorded a group of small children singing various deconstructed phrases based on these lyrics, and then digitally manipulated them in post-production to make them seem horrifyingly distorted.

What’s interesting about the use of the Derry theme is how, following its prominent appearance in the opening cue “27 Years Later,” Wallfisch appears to sort of ‘break’ the theme for most of the rest of the score, presenting it in fragments or in subtle variations that never quite feel fully realized. It seems to me that Wallfisch was making a pointed statement about Derry itself being broken due to Pennywise’s malevolent influence over the town, and to illustrate this the musical representation of the place is broken too. You can clearly hear the bare bones of the theme in numerous cues, including “Come Home,” “Firefly,” “Echo,” “The Barrens,” and several others, but they are all disfigured somehow – hidden behind banks of dissonance, stopping after a couple of notes, or somehow performed in an unnatural way. It’s clever, how Wallfisch uses this simple auditory technique to clearly tell the story of a sick, diseased location.

Standing opposed to this are the Oranges & Lemons theme and the screaming It Noise, which continually insinuate themselves into the score, sometimes clearly and overtly, sometimes with a more underhanded subtlety. You can’t miss it in cues like “Memory” and “Come Home,” but then in “I Swear, Bill” it appears performed slowly on xylophones, disguised amid warm and inviting hints of Beverly’s theme. Later, in the chaotic “Henry Bowers,” it appears sung by sickly sweet la-la voices amid the musical pandemonium of eerie choirs, electronic manipulation, twisted fairground music, and massive string dissonance, as a musical representation of Henry’s madness.

Georgie’s Theme is not especially prominent, but it does get a major outing in “Silver Bullet,” a playful, inquisitive piece for the scene where Bill finds his old bike in a thrift store, which becomes more forceful and determined as Bill rides his bike through town 27 years after he last did so. Beverly’s Theme makes one of its few appearances in the score in “Beverly Escapes,” a determined-sounding statement that underscores the scene where she finally breaks a lifetime cycle of mistreatment and stands up to her abusive husband. Later, the scenes between the various members of the Losers Club as they reunite in Derry feature lovely piano syncopations and string harmonies, warm brass chords, and an overall tone of nostalgia, tinged with regret but warmth. Cues such as “Losers Reunited,” “The Clubhouse,” “Bar Mitzvah,” parts of “You Knew,” and especially “The Library” embrace this style of writing and allow the listeners to re-connect with these characters. The latter cue also features dark orchestral chords and tolling bells which seem to foreshadow a new theme intended to represent the Ritual of Chüd, but we’ll return to that later.

For the most part, the bulk of the score is made up of a huge amount of balls-to-the-wall horror scoring, some of which stands as some of the most challenging and aggressive orchestral dissonance to hit Hollywood in years. The things Wallfisch does to his orchestra could almost be described as abuse. The strings slash and scream and scrape, sometimes with rhythmic intensity, sometimes with just all-out brutal chaos. The brass wails and howls like something has possessed the entire horn section, and sometimes they all exclaim as one, huge clusters bombarding the listener with overwhelming power. The woodwinds shriek and dart in and out of the orchestra, emerging occasionally to take the lead in the sound mix. Keyboards and synthesizers add texture and atmosphere, and often add a layer of dark magic and other-worldly ambiance that speaks to Pennywise’s origins. Wallfisch asks his performers to use extended techniques that sometimes render the music near-incomprehensible, and anyone who is intolerant of this sort of truly ferocious music will find the whole thing quite difficult to experience.

The first truly standout moment of mega dissonance comes in “Firefly,” which underscores Pennywise’s cruel seduction and murder of poor little Victoria Fuller with a lush, enticing instrumental version of Oranges & Lemons, soft voices, and a magical version of the Derry theme on high synths, before its viciously crushing finale. The subsequent “Fortune Cookies” continues in a similar vein for the scene where Pennywise conjures up the world’s worst dim sum buffet – there is a brilliant moment in the film where the choir appears to start singing the Oranges & Lemons chant in Chinese, as do the decapitated heads floating in the restaurant’s fish tank – but sadly it isn’t on the soundtrack! Later, in “Shokopiwah,” Wallfisch works Native American chants into the mix to illustrate the story Mike tells the Losers about the origins of the Ritual of Chüd, and a possible way to kill Pennywise.

The longest sequence of near-unbroken orchestral carnage comes during the long sequence where the members of the Losers Club split up and explore important locations from their childhood in Derry, searching for the artifacts required to complete the Ritual of Chüd. Beverly’s encounter with It in the guise of “Mrs. Kersh,” the apparently sweet old lady now living in her old home, is the stuff of nightmares. When the town’s massive statue of Paul Bunyon attacks in “Miss Me, Richie?” the staggering, enormous string throbs and heavy percussion feels like giant feet coming to crush you, while in the subsequent “Dirty Little Secret” Pennywise himself sings a horrific, mocking song, like a demented circus march.

Hints of Georgie’s Theme emerge from the pandemonium of “Why Georgie?” as Bill encounters Pennywise at the same storm drain where Georgie died so many years before. Ben’s unrequited love for Beverly is mocked by Pennywise in “Your Hair Is Winter Fire,” in which a pretty version of Beverly’s theme is quickly overtaken by electronic manipulation, awful scraping noises, and gargantuan brass hits. “Eddie and the Leper,” a germophobe hypochondriac’s literal nightmare, builds to an apocalyptic finale, but unfortunately a lot of this cue is replaced in the film with a rendition of Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning” which is played for laughs.

Some traditionally orchestral action-adventure music, filled with rampaging strings, a choir, and a notable flute line, appears in “Festival Pursuit,” where Bill follows little Dean into the Derry carnival to save him from Pennywise. The awful dissonance of “Hall of Mirrors,” unfortunately, reveals that Bill’s efforts are in vain; the collapsing cascade of intense brass in the finale of the cue is something to behold.

Eventually, the Losers determine that the only way to stop Pennywise is to return to the house on Niebolt Street, descend down the well into the sewers, and confront the demon in his lair – and hope that the Ritual of Chüd banishes him for good. The 35-minute sequence of music from “Back to Niebolt” all the way through to the end of “You’re All Grown Up,” 14 cues in total, is nothing less than an all-out musical assault on the senses, where Wallfisch cranks up the anger, the power, the dissonance, and the horrific creativity of his music to almost unbearable levels. Throughout the sequence Wallfisch inserts numerous references to the Derry theme, the Oranges & Lemons chant, Beverly’s theme, Georgie’s theme, and the It Noise, as well as the new Ritual of Chüd theme, depending on what is being referenced, who is on screen, and who is doing battle with whom. It’s not easy to un-pick everything that’s going on at all times, but one thing that is never in doubt is Wallfisch’s dedication to the task. This is serious, complicated music, modernistic and avant-garde and wholly superb.

It’s difficult to pick out highlights, but some cues do leave a lasting impression. The dark orchestral crescendos and sense of danger, coupled with a stoic, heroic determination, makes “Back to Neibolt” a standout. The Niebolt Street Attack, where Pennywise tries to stop the Losers in their tracks before they even reach the sewers, is typified by the cues “Home At Last” and “It’s Stan,” the latter of which eventually explodes into a thunderous action sequence that could make you lose your head. “Very Scary” is nothing short of immense, while “Scary” and “Not Scary At All” feature some unusual rhythmic ideas but, more than anything else, reinforce just how terrifying Pomeranian puppies are. “My Heart Burns There Too” revisits the ‘chop off your head’ part of the Oranges & Lemons song to great effect, and builds to a gigantic crescendo finale as Ben and Beverly save each other from being buried alive and drowning in a bathroom of blood, respectively. “Spider Attack” is filled with whirling adventurous strings, guttural brass calls, and a rampaging version of the Derry theme in an action setting, but is perhaps most notable for its devastating extended use of the rasping It Noise as the full power of Pennywise’s ‘deadlights’ come sharply into focus.

However, perhaps the most notable part of the score is the music for the Ritual; it begins with serious intent in “Artifacts,” where dark strings, harp glissandi, tolling bells, and hints of both Georgie’s theme and Beverly’s theme accompany the Losers as they drop their totems into the Shokopiwah cauldron and set it alight. “The Ritual of Chüd” itself is enormous, filled with darkly beautiful crescendos, massive operatic choral outbursts, and the epic culmination of the theme for the Ritual. “You’re All Grown Up” underscores the death of Pennywise with powerful chugging strings, more epic choral elements, and more powerful statements of the Chüd theme, as well as a solemnly resolute variation on the Derry theme for dark, dark cellos. . The cue’s finale is quiet, reflective, and emotional, as the Losers mourn the death of one of their number.

There’s one final burst of pumping aggression, massive dissonance, thunderous percussion, roaring brass, and rampaging strings in “Neibolt Escape” as the Losers desperately try to flee from the collapsing house. The conclusive three cues are the musical equivalent of a sigh of relief, stepping out into the sunshine after fighting in the darkness, and giving the audience time to breathe, and heal, and grieve. There’s a sense of remembrance in the warm piano and string harmonies of “Nothing Lasts Forever,” and in the sparkling electronic enhancements of “Goodbye,” while the genuine sentiment of “Stan’s Letter” ends the score on a thoughtful note.

I honestly feel that, with his work on these It movies, Benjamin Wallfisch has created two of the best horror movie scores in many years. To the untrained ear a great deal of the most anarchic dissonance may seem like little more than ear-splitting noise, but I find it all quite fascinating. The creative collisions of sounds, the extended performance techniques, and the allusions to the most challenging and advanced 20th century modernism, are all worthy of significant praise. Not only that, but Wallfisch weaves a half dozen or so identifiable and memorable recurring themes through the score too, and allows them the room to create moments of emotional catharsis when required. The Oranges & Lemons chant for the demented toddlers remains one of the most brilliant and spine-chilling horror music motifs in recent memory. But, as much as I praise it, I guarantee that there will be a large number of listeners who simply will not be able to tolerate the onslaught of noise that assails you from the first cue to the last, and those people need to be forewarned that a large portion of this score is very, VERY difficult indeed. With that being said, I personally think that this score is a triumph, and I un-hesitatingly recommend it to anyone who wants to float too.

Buy the It: Chapter Two soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • 27 Years Later (2:06)
  • Memory (1:40)
  • Come Home (2:24)
  • I Swear, Bill (1:30)
  • Beverly Escapes (2:21)
  • Henry Bowers (1:21)
  • Firefly (3:09)
  • Losers Reunited (0:52)
  • Echo (1:44)
  • Fortune Cookies (2:11)
  • You Knew (1:49)
  • The Library (2:07)
  • Shokopiwah (3:29)
  • The Barrens (1:21)
  • The Clubhouse (3:48)
  • Perfume (2:36)
  • Mrs. Kersh (1:47)
  • Miss Me, Richie? (1:24)
  • Dirty Little Secret (1:21)
  • Silver Bullet (1:54)
  • Why Georgie? (3:45)
  • Your Hair Is Winter Fire (3:20)
  • Eddie and the Leper (1:50)
  • Festival Pursuit (1:06)
  • Hall of Mirrors (2:14)
  • Bar Mitzvah (1:36)
  • Bowers Attack (1:19)
  • Back to Neibolt (2:50)
  • Home At Last (1:29)
  • It’s Stan (2:03)
  • This Is Where It Happened (2:03)
  • The Place of It (1:57)
  • Artifacts (3:10)
  • The Ritual of Chüd (2:04)
  • Very Scary (1:39)
  • Scary (1:31)
  • Not Scary At All (1:25)
  • You Lied and I Died (2:55)
  • My Heart Burns There Too (2:30)
  • Spider Attack (3:28)
  • You’re All Grown Up (5:24)
  • Neibolt Escape (1:36)
  • Nothing Lasts Forever (4:18)
  • Goodbye (0:54)
  • Stan’s Letter (4:18)

Running Time: 101 minutes 15 seconds

Watertower Music (2019)

Music composed by Benjamin Wallfisch. Conducted by Arturo Rodriguez. Orchestrations by David Krystal, Jon Kull, Peter Bateman an David Slonaker. Recorded and mixed by Scott Michael Smith. Edited by Lise Richardson and Nate Underkuffler. Album produced by Benjamin Wallfisch.

  1. SARA ANDON
    September 10, 2019 at 10:23 am

    Wonderfully written review, Jon! Such detailed and impressive insight!!! It is indeed a brilliant score and masterful film that will take the heart and mind to places one can not imagine!!
    I personally feel so fortunate to get to be a part of the Hollywood Studio Orchestra for both It and It Chapter Two playing principal flute – what an true joy, honor and palpitating visceral ride to work with genius composer Benjamin Wallfisch! Will float forever…

  2. Michael Hayko
    September 13, 2019 at 4:11 pm

    Unfortunately this is only available in the US in the CD-R format. Is your edition a CD-R as well or is it a genuine CD? I would love to get this score but I refuse to waste my money on inferior audio quality inherent to CD-R’s.

    • September 13, 2019 at 6:07 pm

      Neither. I was sent high-quality MP3s as a promo by the record label.

  3. Marco Ludema
    September 16, 2019 at 3:14 am

    Such an intense listen, this one. Might pick up this one when I’ve seen both movies, but I don’t think I should play it in the car…

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