Director: Andy Muschietti
Stars: Bill Hader, Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy
Andy Muschietti’s IT felt like a culmination of everything popular horror had been trying to do in the cinema for the past 10 years. It was a grandiose, nostalgia-laced funhouse of jump scares. It moved sleekly, it looked gorgeous and – as with King’s doorstop source material – it pried into the rottenness beneath the American veneer. And it really was only half the story.
Two years down the line and the inevitable and necessary continuation has arrived. Bringing us up to speed and flashing forward 27 years, IT Chapter Two plays perhaps its strongest card right out of the gate; bringing to life the sickening hate crime against Adrian Mellon (Xavier Dolan!) that really kicks off the novel. If we’re to take these two movies as one – Kill Bill style – then its the most horrifying depiction of what King was getting at across the entire project. Unfortunately, kids, its all downhill from there…
I loved IT, but it was not without flaws. Chiefly these were enjoined with Muschietti’s proclivities for CG-aided monsters that spend a little too long on screen. He’s a more-is-more kinda guy. That urge toward excess is everywhere in IT Chapter Two, from its egregious 170 minute running time, to the false confidence in a number of its effects. Muschietti may well find a slickly unrealistic melting face effective. I’d beg to differ. While the de-ageing gloss that covers the faces of his child stars in a series of flashbacks is creepier than any other provocation to jump that he attempts.
It could be that some of the overt cheesiness this time around comes down to some changes in the creative department. The first part of this story was ferried to us by screenwriters Chase Palmer and Cary Joji Fukunaga (originally set to direct), along with The Nun author Gary Dauberman. The first two names have since departed the project, leaving Dauberman the task of shaping this thing by himself. While he may have proven himself an effective director earlier this year with Annabelle Comes Home, he’s far less disciplined on the page.
IT boldly (but successfully) swerved away from the book’s flashback narrative, concentrating solely on the experiences of the Losers Club during childhood. Chapter Two catches up with them as adults during a rushed opening, but also defaults to the flashback methodology as things move forward. It doesn’t work for the movie. Everything starts to feel like a lesser retread of past glories, and more than anything Muschietti’s film starts to feel like a compilation of deleted scenes.
The biggest victim of this approach (apart from any sense of pacing) is Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise. He owned the role two years ago. Now, he features less and seems smaller (in spite of VFX efforts). The character’s origin story is fumbled, and Dauberman defers to a sense of the comically absurd, rather than continuing the first film’s mandate of genuine chills. Skarsgård is giving it his all, but the effect is diluted.
It isn’t all bad news, and some excellent casting choices mean that – like film one – the characters shine brightest. Muschietti reunites with his Mama star Jessica Chastain, and she’s a perfect fit for the older Beverly Marsh. Similarly, James Ransone’s take on Eddie Kaspbrak is dead-on. He absolutely nails it. Ransone also conjures huge bundles of goodwill in his interactions with Bill Hader’s Richie Tozer. One of the very best things Chapter Two coaxes out of the material is a deeper sense of connection between these two than anticipated (something that acts as antidote to the film’s horrifying opening in no small way). These are the film’s real heroes, and you should see Chapter Two for Chastain, Ransone and Hader alone.
But the taxes are steep. With the Losers Club sent off to find themselves around Derry separately, the first film’s sense of constant reset is rekindled for the entirety of the protracted second act. That sense of structural deja vu wears even thinner during the epic final battle. King’s novel goes to some pretty ambitious places, and an earlier scene suggests that Dauberman and Muschietti might try to follow him there… but they don’t, and instead favour a similar showdown to the one set out in the 90’s TV miniseries, albeit extended to four or five times the length. Epic becomes exhausting and, by extension, underwhelming. With Pennywise’s history muddied in the mix, you’re left to ask, “Is this…. it?”
A messy, messy movie and a pointedly inferior follow-up to the first, IT Chapter Two feels more akin to a forgettable Nightmare On Elm Street sequel before an editor has been allowed into the room. The sense of a country silenced by its own fear and discrimination gets lost in favour of over-indulgence. Nods to the likes of The Thing and Stand By Me are distracting, and show up this film’s paucity of good ideas. Still, its worth the entry fee for the truly baffling use of Juice Newton’s “Angel Of The Morning” for what must surely stand as 2019’s most brain-melting three seconds by far.