06th Sep2019

‘It Chapter 2′ Review

by Chris Thomas

Stars: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Bill Skarsgård | Written by Gary Dauberman | Directed by Andy Muschietti

it-chapter-2-poster

When I was about 10 I had a friend whose parents really didn’t seem too bothered what he got up to. I remember thinking at the time how incredibly lucky he was (the thick dust that coated everything and gave me allergies didn’t set any alarm bells ringing… his parents swore! How cool!). This meant when I went for a sleep over we could watch whatever, totally inappropriate horror films we liked. We would scare ourselves witless with Freddy Krueger, the Thing and It.

As a child I was traumatised by Stephen King’s It… I don’t remember exactly how young I was when I saw the made for TV movies, but I was too young. Over a summer holiday in Switzerland I then read the enormous book at the age of 11 or 12. I was terrified, but I couldn’t stop reading. Last night I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the premier night of the new version of It Chapter 2 (at least the premier here in Frankfurt) … and before that was a screening of It Chapter 1.

It Chapter 1 was a fantastic (albeit familiar) story of unhappy, lonely kids banding together to overcome something truly evil, and fear itself. In many ways it feels like a companion piece to King’s other work The Body, filmed in 1986 as Stand by Me. The film is filled with little nods to the late 80s when I grew up. The performances from the child stars are frankly astonishing and the film is well made with Bill Skarsgård putting in a terrific performance as our demonic clown. He manages to somehow be both subtle and nuanced and suitably over the top at the same time. His performance is mesmerising, which is exactly what this character needs to be. You want to look away, but you can’t look away. Just as I was in that tent in Switzerland 20 something years ago.

It Chapter 1 is a series of fairground spook house rides. Each character, in turn has their own separate turn facing, and then trying to overcome the horror. The beautiful part of Stephen King’s creation is that, the clown is very scary but really it can be what our characters fear the most which allows for a diverse set of horror situations and the film is playful and creative with jump scares. The film ends in a very satisfying way and throughout Richie’s jokes about virgins and beaver camps land like a space shuttle.

The best sequels are the ones that build on the ideas and themes in interesting ways, that give us something new and subvert our expectations (think Aliens, Terminator 2). The worst sequels are the ones that just give us more of the same, just scraping the barrel to fill out a feature film, thin ideas gruel. Sadly, with It Chapter 2 we have the later. Our characters come back to Derry 27 years later, but they have forgotten almost everything – how inconvenient! So, while our characters are older their story arch remains basically the same, but less interesting this time around. Most of the film also feels like it was set to “shuffle” as one scene doesn’t really lead into another in a coherent way, stuff just sort of happens until the final boss battle.

There is good stuff here. It Chapter 2 is still well made, the acting is great, and the characters are likable and interesting (albeit somewhat archetypal) but it is just too clearly a retread. All the ideas and themes here were in the first film. What they have added however is some nonsense backstory about native Americans and they have introduced a silly looking gourd that some native Americans made. I remember there was a fair bit of nonsense background to Pennywise in the book but for me, the character works best as a metaphor for the trauma the kids suffer and their inner demons, the more you explain what this monster is the less interesting it gets.

Here be spoilers. The end sequence is, ultimately extremely like that of the first film but far sillier and more prolonged with us being able to see a very vaguely comic looking monster in full light, something that is almost always a mistake in a horror film. After sitting from about 8.15pm to 2am feeling like I was about to have a heart attack the ending was a big disappointment, especially after a film that, for the most part really added almost nothing to an excellent and tight horror ride in It Chapter 1. Individual scenes are good (Beverly meeting the old lady is a treat) but when the arc of the film is identical due to collective memory loss the value of the film just isn’t there. It is still a decent horror film, and you could do much worse, but the first film is far superior and tells, what is effectively the exact same tale 27 years earlier and the second one runs at nearly (very familiar) 3 hours.

Almost certainly this is a problem with the source material and I will need to go back and rewatch the TV movies from the 1990s or, if I have a spare summer with nothing to do, re-read the book to check this. But the movie must be judged as a movie from 2019 and as a movie from 2019, despite the good performances It Chapter 2 just does not do enough to justify itself. I was really interested to see if it was going to be a meditation on being middle-aged, and what they have done with their last 27 years and on what it all means, it does a little bit, but not really. Questions about how childhood trauma might have manifested itself on adults, how damaged they might be are not really discussed (Beverly is in an abusive relationship but that is about as far as it goes) because everyone forgot.

It Chapter 2 is in cinemas now.

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