“It’s Derry, I’m starting to get used to it”
Those words only have to do with the city, not the book. Just when you do get accustomed to what you are reading, it changes…definitely for the more morose and sinister.
The second half of IT in film was always going to be the more difficult section to adapt. The sections of Stephen King’s sprawling and epic novel focused on the “Losers’ Club” as adults, while scary, was definitely more reflective.
Those parts of the novel were not only a narrative, but a meditation on returning to a time and place full of pain and repressed memories. The sections of the film centered on the adults as kids are viewed more like a traditional horror story, which made for a more cohesive narrative. The second half is horror as well, but the narrative drive is different (not to mention, there is a lot of wacky mythology the first IT didn’t reveal).
This movie had a challenge: Much more of the story from King’s novel left to explore.
IT: Chapter Two had lofty goals but falls short of the first movie and its own ambitions. We aren’t provided a “bad” movie because there are many great things going for it, including strong performances and an earnest translation of King’s prose and resolution. Nevertheless, IT: Chapter Two suffers from a confused tone and a genuine lack of scares. While I didn’t mind the movie’s length (10 minutes shy of three hours), I wish it made better use of the time it was afforded.
Ambition and Reunion
The novel is spread across almost 1,200 pages. So when it was announced that it would have a near three-hour runtime, I wasn’t surprised. Across the two films exists the potential for a long supercut of five hours (despite my issues with this movie, I would love to see a supercut combining the two).
IT: Chapter Two picks up 27 years after the events of Pennywise the Clown starting to reappear in the town of Derry. Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) is the only member of the Losers’ Club who remained in their hometown, but as a flood of memory and trauma returns to Derry, he calls each of the Losers knowing they have to fulfill the promise they made to face Pennywise one last time.
The movie feels sprawling and huge–something many horror movies aren’t always allowed to feel because of their budgets. Director Andy Muschietti makes this film feel larger than life in a way a horror movie hasn’t been in a long time. And withing those near three hours, he tries to pack as much character work as he can.
That’s where the movie succeeds. Muschietti pays a great deal of attention to his cast of the characters as each one must confront a moment from their past not revealed in the previous movie.
Flashbacks and Characters
The movie retains the narrative structure of the novel and gives us time to return back to the cast of the kids with whom everyone fell in love. In the sequel, the kids are older, which means the filmmakers employed de-aging technology in some parts. The de-aging doesn’t look nearly as bad as some people make it out to be.
That’s not the real issue however. It’s another technical problem. Some of the kid’s voices have changed, which possibly led to force the filmmakers to adjust the voices in post-production. This leads to a strange uncanny valley of sound where the voices sound similar to how they should, but they don’t seem to match up with their lips. Also, the pitches seem off (particularly Richie and Eddie, played once again by Jack Dylan Grazer and Finn Wolfhard).
The Automated Dialogue Replacement (ADR, also known as “dubbing”) is noticeable and I would be lying if I said it didn’t take me out of the movie. I understand it was a hurdle for the filmmakers to attempt to overcome but it was a risk that didn’t pay off.
The technical problems did make wonder: “Why spend so much time in returning to these ‘forgotten memories’ when we were there in the last movie?”
I understand why the choice was made since the flashbacks are a core component of the book’s narrative as adults. The flashback structure is woven within the events of the first movie. Since the filmmakers split the book up into different eras, it changed the way narrative was told. The events portrayed aren’t dissimilar from events in the first movie. They establish some repetition of a double Pennywise attack, first in the past then the present.
The long run time was perplexing because the beginning is so rushed. The book spends a decent amount of time establishing the losers’ adult lives, which is important. We need to establish how the events of their childhood affected their adulthood. The movie shortchanged its characters by rushing through the introductions to get the Losers back to Derry. The movie may have used its run time more effectively by focusing on them before the return to Derry.
Scares and Laughs
This was one of the biggest let downs — the scare sequences are subpar compared to the first movie. The first movie might not be the scariest film ever made, but it has a clever balance of atmosphere, haunted house-jump scares, and exciting action.
The death of Georgie is shocking, but in IT 2, the death of children feel mundane. Andy Muschietti’s attention seems divided as if he wasn’t able to find the rhythm of the scare scenes, making most feel “by the numbers.”
The film also doesn’t make the most of Bill Skarsgård either.
He was terrifying and creepy as Pennywise in the first movie, but in the sequel, he is more of a campy Freddy Kruger-type character. That isn’t to say Skarsgård is bad. He has some good scenes. In fact, there is one standout scene of him underneath the bleachers of a little league baseball game that is outstanding, but the way he is written throughout the film is a little lackluster.
Speaking of Freddy Kruger this movie is funny. I’m not sure if it was intentional but the scares felt more like comedic moments (and I’m not talking about the parts that obviously meant to be funny). There is some level to this movie that works better as a horror-comedy than just a horror movie with some comedic moments.
Despite my reservations, I did find the finale satisfying. Throughout this ambitious mess of a movie, Andy Mushetti’s attention to a character (despite my misgiving about his placement of character) does help make this came together for the emotionally relieving climax.
Adult Losers and the End of a Nightmare
All the performances build well off their younger cast. Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, and Jay Ryan bring their humanity to roles that require pain, guilt, jealousy, and regret but still maintain that longing for the innocence of friendship.
The standout everyone is already talking about is Bill Hader as Richie, who is able to mix comedy with dramatic chops previously unseen for most audiences. The other standout is James Ransone as Eddie. Ransone and Hader share much of the screentime together and the film’s funniest and most tender moments come when these two are together.
There is much like in here, but there is a lot that doesn’t work. My feelings of the film air more on the positive side of things even with much reservations and a tinge of disappointment. I think the movie mostly works from a character perspective and even if the movie is repetitive, I didn’t mind the runtime and found the film’s closing moments quite touching.
As a horror film, this lacks the scare and the creativity that the first film brought. I love the book, I like the first movie and I admire what this movie is trying to do. This might be a movie that does well upon multiple viewings but IT: Chapter Two doesn’t quite float high enough.
All Images Courtesy: New Line Cinema/KatzSmith Productions