Saturday, 14 September 2019

Thoughts on "IT: Chapter Two" (2019)

There is a running joke in IT: Chapter Two that writer Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy) cannot write a satisfactory ending to his books. Horror writer Bill is, of course, a stand-in for Stephen King whose mammoth 1,138-page novel serves as the basis for IT: Chapter Two, and the criticism is often applied to King’s books; IT in particular.

Stephen King needn’t be upset though, because the task of writing a worthwhile conclusion eluded the writers of this film too.

IT: Chapter Two is the highly-anticipated sequel to IT (2017) and finds the grown-up versions of the Losers Club, a group of social outcasts who vanquished the fear-mongering entity that often takes the form of Pennywise, the demonic clown in the ‘80s, being drawn back to their hometown of Derry, Maine when it becomes apparent that the creature has returned.

IT was a monster success upon its release, usurping The Exorcist as the highest-grossing horror film of all time, but it only adapted the first half of King’s tome. The promise of a sequel was a tantalizing one, and with the creative team back behind the camera and a distinguished cast including Jessica Chastain and Bill Hader in front of it, IT: Chapter Two seemed poised to keep the spirit of the first movie – which still permeates our culture, perverting our vision of storm sewers and red balloons – alive and vibrant.

IT: Chapter Two makes a valiant effort as it hurtles towards the finish of its nearly three-hour runtime, however more often than not in the race to get there, it trips and falls over its big, floppy clown shoes.

Part of what made the first IT movie a success was the freedom it felt in distancing itself from King’s prose. The corporeal monsters of the novel were replaced with demons of the mind, each chasing after, and tormenting the kids of the Losers Club in several well-staged scenes of horror.

IT: Chapter Two, while retaining the psychological edge which marked the first movie, elects to reinstate the monsters; lots of screen-time devoted to the adult Losers coming up against ghastly CGI creations that are liable to elicit titters of bemusement rather than cold shivers down the spine.

In fact, laughter may be one of the film’s great downfalls. IT: Chapter Two is a much funnier movie than it has any right to be; most of the jokes issuing from the Losers’ joker, Richie, played to perfection by Bill Hader, but the film’s humor manifests itself at the most inopportune moments, undercutting the tension which the movie works so hard to create. And while the juxtaposition of comedy can actually strengthen the scares of many horror movies, in IT: Chapter Two, Hader’s juvenile quips do nothing but dilute a potentially unnerving moment.

However, Hader still delivers a stellar performance, matching – if not surpassing – those given by the other performers. James McAvoy is excellent as the still grieving and self-loathing Bill, still blaming himself for the death of his brother, Georgie, and Jessica Chastain adds nuance to the role of Beverly whose abusive relationship we see is part of a viscous pattern which began in her childhood. There is real emotional weight to all of the characters and, as was the case with the child actors in the first film, there is a real sense of comradery among the adults.

It is such a shame, then, that the film gives us so few opportunities to see them all together.

The middle section of the movie feels bogged down by repetitive scenes of the Losers encountering Pennywise on their own which is liable to make one feel as though this stretch is much longer than it actually is. And when the characters’ stories converge once more in the final act, the action feels drawn-out and tedious.

More than once I felt while watching the Losers standoff with Pennywise that I was watching the final battle of an Avengers movie and this odd amalgamation of genres sat uneasily with me.

It is telling too that there is little to say of Bill SkarsgĂ„rd as Pennywise who made such an impact in the first movie by remaining a shadowy presence throughout. Here, Pennywise is brought front-and-center diminishing the horror of the creature’s elusive presence and damagingly rendering him as a campy figure of fun.

IT: Chapter Two is not a bad movie. It simply bears all of the hallmarks of a Stephen King story – schlocky and confused – which the first movie worked so hard to correct. For an entertaining romp, IT: Chapter Two fits the bill but leaves one feeling that the film left a great deal of untapped potential to be mined.

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