“IT CHAPTER 2” DOES IT AGAIN

Ridiculous storytelling, goofy CGI, and weak scares plague Muschietti’s It Chapter 2, but its ensemble cast is a powerhouse. The performances of the adult Losers Club alone make this movie worth seeing.

Directed by Andy Muschietti

Written by Gary Dauberman

Starring Bill Skarsgård, James McAvoy, and Bill Hader

Rated R, for disturbing violent content and bloody images throughout, pervasive language, and some crude sexual material

Released September 6, 2019

From left to right, Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Hader, and Jay Ryan in It Chapter 2 | Warner Bros.

No one who dies here ever really dies.”

Okay look, if you liked It (2017), you’re going to like It Chapter 2. Andy and Barbara Muschietti, Gary Dauberman and crew return to complete their adaptation of the 1986 Stephen King horror novel, and are nothing if not consistent with the mood, cinematography, dialogue, and scares that the first installment displayed. It’s not as simple as saying these movies are either good or bad because they’re so substantial, but for the sake of being brief, they’re bad.

Are they worth watching? Yes.

I never read the book, but was inspired to learn about it after the hype of the first installment two years ago. I was caught up enough to understand all of the Easter Eggs in Chapter 2, but was too informed to be surprised by many of the twists and turns. It was a double-edged sword because I missed out on the fresh experience of seeing the story through the lens of a new director, but I did gain the ability to compare it to its predecessors in real time.

In 1990, the story was adapted for television in the form of a two-part mini-series. Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise the Dancing Clown is adored, but the production as a whole is heavily scrutinized. I can’t say that it’s good, but there’s something about it that’s very likeable.

… well, a few things actually.

The most enjoyable aspect of Stephen King’s It (1990) is the Losers Club. I got more amusement from watching these characters in their daily lives, and in their interactions with each other than I did from watching them on their quest to defeat Pennywise. The scenes that don’t advance the plot and just serve as background are the best ones. The cast, both young and adult, are decent and really make the movie what it is.

I also really enjoy the way the dark and disturbing story was altered to be acceptable for a diverse audience on TV. It plays like an episode of Goosebumps (1995-1998) or Are You Afraid of the Dark? (1990-2000), two important shows from my childhood that I still cherish.

Pretty much every other aspect of the mini-series is laughable, but it showcased the potential of a story that, if done right, could be groundbreaking. It’s also kind of a great gateway horror movie for young people or anyone new to the genre.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century. The Duffer Brothers wanted the new big-screen adaptation of It, but were told no by Warner Brothers. Cary Fukunaga got the screenplay and Andy Muschietti became the director, as we know.

As a result, from the Duffer Brothers, we got Stranger Things (2016-).

Netflix’s Stranger Things (2016-) and It (2017) have a lot of similarities, from the casting of Finn Wolfhard, to the 1980s-summertime-kid-adventure-Goonies-vibe it boasts. Both programs have potential, and likeable aspects, but fail because they focus on the wrong things. They both suffer from overuse of bad CGI, and a misguided understanding of what makes good horror.

I love the horror genre, but most of its entries are downright bad. It’s hard to pull off. Even some of the best horror movies are only good because they’re original in some way, yet still fail in most other aspects, be it the writing, the acting, or something else.

Most horror is just fun. Evil Dead (1981), Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010), The Cabin in the Woods (2011), and You’re Next (2011) are great examples of horror films that understand the genre and what makes it amusing. They play to these strengths and almost parody the genre itself.

But still, they’re really not that scary…

Good horror is inherently scary. It’s not forced. The best scares come from tension, or scenes that are naturally unnerving. Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room (2016) is not scary because of the gore, or the dimly-lit sets, but because the situation the characters are in is inherently scary. When filmmakers can use horror as device to tell a story instead of as a main purpose for a story’s existence, a better result materializes.

And it doesn’t have to be exploitative.

This is where It (2017) and its sequel fail. They attempt to be scary by using cheap jump scares and what they deem are disturbing images. Maybe these devices would be scary to a little kid, but they’re not to an adult audience, especially seasoned horror enthusiasts.

(Although that lumberjack did give me a good scare.)

The It films are like the movie equivalent to a haunted hayride. They’re all dressed up like Halloween, and can be fun, but ultimately are not very profound.

With these types of movies, you have to ask yourself, would it be scary without the monster? Without the gore? Without the jump scare?

What’s frustrating is that the real horror is right at their fingertips, but they don’t unleash it. All of the parents/grown-ups in the It story are terrifying. They’re predatory, sleazy, creepy, and downtrodden. The children can’t trust them. The people in their lives who are supposed to be rational are ambivalent, ignorant, and negligent.

Now that’s scary.

That’s something you can empathize with. Imagine being in those kids’ shoes with no one to turn to.

Instead of playing that up, we get a supernatural, shapeshifting clown with sharp teeth and no conceivable rules. Many will say I’m missing the point, and that Pennywise characterizes the adversity and abuse that these children are battling, but what the filmmakers are capitalizing on is a CG monster biting little Georgie’s arm off in the storm drain.

So, Pennywise… I’m sorry, but I don’t get it. Why is he scary? The issue with Pennywise is that he has no rules and is consistently inconsistent. The movies glaze over what he really is, and the audience can’t be afraid of him because they learn that his actions are dictated by where the screenwriter wants the plot to go. Even if he has the opportunity to eat someone, he won’t if it’s inconvenient for the plot. Many will say he doesn’t always kill people, sometimes he just needs to scare them because that builds up the fear in the town and that makes the kids tastier, but it comes off as lazy writing. I’m supposed to believe he knows where these people are at all times, knows their deepest thoughts and fears (even though he’s dormant for 30 years at a time), and he can’t anticipate how they’re going to kill him? It’s like he keeps the Losers Club alive so we can have big action scenes. It’s purely for the audience. For that I say, thanks, but no thanks.

I suppose if you don’t give it much thought, Pennywise is good villain. If you can just shut your brain off and accept it for what it is, it can be a fun ride, but it feels like the movie wants to be bigger than just a mindless horror flick. It really does have potential. While I’m watching it, I want the writing to be really thorough.

Both Tim Curry, and Bill Skarsgård are highly praised for their takes on Pennywise. I mean, I think they’re good… they’re fine… There’s a lot of make-up and CGI going on. They don’t do a bad job. Skarsgård’s performance is very physical, which is impressive. I don’t really know what to say. Their interpretations are unique. I give them a thumbs up… but again, I don’t think Pennywise is the most important aspect of the It movies.

One thing It (2017) does well is the childhood summertime nostalgia. It’s moments like the lake scene that elevate It beyond being just a monster movie.

“The first It brought a robust blockbuster maximalism to the horror genre…”

Scott Tobias, NPR

Well put.

These movies are big. They’re big in many ways, not just their length. Like them or not, they’re epic and use drama and action in a fresh way that has really connected with audiences.

It Chapter 2 (2019) takes place in present day, 27 years after the kids took a blood oath to return to Derry if Pennywise wasn’t dead. It’s structured similarly to the mini-series, where the main story follows the adult Losers Club, but is cut with flashbacks of that fateful summer in 1989.

I wanted to like this movie, and I’m sure that when I see it again, I’ll want to like it the same way I did the first time, but it disappointed me a lot. I didn’t have high expectations going in, because I knew it wasn’t the type of horror movie that aligned with my tastes, but still, I was trying to be into it.

First, there’s the setting of the film. It takes place in central Maine. It was not shot in Maine. This is very obvious. It was mostly shot in Ontario. It doesn’t look or feel much like Maine and that’s really a shame. Maine is so seldom depicted in cinema and it’s a really unique place. It’s a huge disappointment to try to pretend you’re in Maine with these characters, and not be able to connect with their depicted surroundings.

The CGI in the film is sometimes done right. They do some neat things with Pennywise, but more often it’s done wrong. It doesn’t serve the story in many scenes. For example, the scene where the old lady, Mrs. Kersh, transforms into whatever that was, with the weird googly eyes, is more funny than scary.

And the sound design when she’s in the kitchen talking to Beverly is quite strange.

Despite only two years passing, the child actors from It (2017) have aged considerably. To combat this, the visual effects team used heavy CGI to “de-age” the characters- an attempt to make them look the way did in the first chapter. The first time we see this, it’s very jarring. It doesn’t quite look right. It evens out a little, or maybe you just get used to it after a while, but it’s not a strong point for the movie.

It may grow on me in time, but my initial thoughts of the film were that it was made more for the cast and crew than it was for the audience. It’s fairly meta, and is filled with way more humor than the first chapter. A lot of the choices feel like the crew just said, “but wouldn’t it be funny if we did this?” The leper scene with adult Eddie comes to mind. One moment, the movie’s taking itself very seriously, and then on a dime, it isn’t at all. Usually, I would like this, but it threw me on the first viewing. Again though, I’ll probably come around to it, and it’s most likely enjoyed when watching with a friend or a group.

What may have thrown me the most was how brutally unsatisfying the deaths of the villains were. I love the inclusion of Henry Bowers, the secondary villain, but he was way too built up to just take a hatchet to head, mostly off screen. Where’s the catharsis? He did not get his comeuppance.

The same thing goes for Pennywise. He just gets bullied to death? I don’t know…

It all goes back to the “no rules” thing. It was too easy for him to just fold under the insults of the protagonists.

I have to say though, there was something sad about seeing him as a deflated sad baby.

Now, all criticism aside, let’s give a big hand to Casting Director Rich Delia and his team.

Wow.

Despite everything I’ve said, It Chapter 2 (2019) accomplishes something amazing. It may be the best-cast film of all time, and for that sole reason, I implore you to see it.

The actors were faced with the challenge of stepping into the roles that the young cast established so concretely in 2017. They knocked it out of the park. Not only did they look just like their younger counterparts, but they so expertly studied their mannerisms and showed a very believable rendition of what those kids would be like today. The biggest standouts were James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, and even Andy Bean (though his screen time was minimal.)

If you’re on the fence about seeing this movie, see it for this reason. If you don’t want to see this movie, see it for this reason.

Bill Hader steals the show. His character has the strongest arc, and his performance provides both the most humor, and the most emotion. His mourning of Eddie in the lake is heavy, I just wished they pushed it a little harder- showed us more.

Many are criticizing the length and the pacing of the movie. I actually didn’t mind it. It didn’t feel too long to me. I timed my water consumption during the day so I wouldn’t have to get up during the show. It’s supposed to be long, and in fact, it would probably benefit from being longer. Muschietti has teased that he wants to make a super cut, with footage he hasn’t even shot yet, and that’s somewhat interesting, but I surmise that it wouldn’t change the motivations of the movie, which are what needs manipulating the most.

After seeing Chapter 2, I can’t help but wonder if the story would have been better told in the form of a mini-series again, maybe with seven-ish episodes. There’s a lot of meat to the story and it still feels restrained, even across the total running time of parts one and two. Imagine each character having their own hour long episode. Their stories would intertwine and overlap; we’d get more information in each episode; each one would provide a new perspective and would build up to an explosive finale.

Maybe in another thirty years it will be time for a new adaptation. If it were structured like this, I’d definitely give it a watch. I have a lot of ideas for it. In fact, maybe I’ll go get started…

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