IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 169 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
27 years after their first encounter with Pennywise, the members of the Loser’s Club have grown up, moved away, and forgotten most of what happened – with the exception of Mike Hanlon. When he realises that Pennywise has resurfaced when investigating the beating of a gay man who’s then killed by Pennywise, Mike rings the others and asks them to return to their home town. The reminder of terrible events in the past is too much for Stanley Uris, but the others go back to Derry to confront the demonic Pennywise again. It seems that Mike once met with a Native American tribe who showed him the Ritual of Chüd, a way of destroying It once and for all…
It’s been a while since me or indeed anybody has done an Alternative Review for HCF. In the early days we all seemed to have much more time on our hands so if one of us disagreed majorly with a review one of us had written that person would then go and write another one of the same film. These days life seems to be busier for all of us. But I had a rare Saturday evening free and no screeners need doing, so I decided to do my own review of It Chapter 2, which seems to have had mixed reviews [far more mixed than its predecessor] and some downright hostility on the IMDB user comment pages and movie message boards. Our David S. Smith really liked it, so it was predictable that I wouldn’t [we do tend to differ on our views] – but as I thought about it for several days after I watched the film, it struck me more and more how poor it was; often tedious and downright inept for such a major motion picture with a large budget, full of poor decisions and idiocy. It Chapter One didn’t wow me, but I did enjoy it on the level of a Nightmare On Elm Street sequel [well, a Nightmare On Elm Street sequel crossed with Stand By Me], even though it never seemed to really scare. Of course us horror lovers have now seen so much that it probably takes far more to frighten us these days, but I’m usually able to get myself to ‘that place’ where I’m more liable to feel the shudders. This film still did little for me in that respect, but was undeniably fairly well crafted otherwise. But this sequel committed the cardinal sin of starting out very good, then getting worse and worse as it went along, swallowed up by a cloud of tedious repetition, weak storytelling, shoddy CGI, bizarre vagueness, ill-advised film-making ideas and just plain stupidity.
Boy does it begin well, and considering the current climate of sensitivity to such things, it’s also quite brave to begin with the extremely vicious beating up of a homosexual, human nature at its very ugliest. Unfortunately all I could think of at the time was how tame the subsequent supernatural shenanigans might seem by comparison, though Pennywise ripping out the guy’s heart immediately after was decent. Then we meet the adult versions of the kids who comprised the Loser’s Club in 1989. Mike Hanlon is the only one of the bunch who stayed in Derry; he’s now the town’s librarian and the one who makes the fateful phone calls to round up his old pals. Bill Denbrough is a successful author and screenwriter who often gets criticised for his stories’ endings and whose latest book is being adapted into a film [oh how tediously meta!]. Beverly Marsh is a fashion designer with a violent husband. Ben Hanscom has lost weight and is a successful architect. Richie Tozier has become a famous stand-up comedian. Eddie Kaspbrak is a risk assessor with an overbearing wife. And Stanley Uris is a wealthy partner in a large accounting firm. Defining character traits aren’t all strong, but we are certainly convinced that these are those kids grown up because of the well chosen performers [though I reckon Amy Adams would have been a better choice than Jessica Chastain as she looks so much like an adult Sophia Lillis] who greatly resemble their youthful counterparts – well, with the exception of a somewhat miscast James McAvoy who looks ill at ease throughout.
There’s nowhere near the amount of chemistry between the adults as there was the kids, but I actually felt that this was fitting, seeing as this lot basically abandoned each other nearly three decades years ago and would undeniably feel ill at ease with each other now. Unfortunately the movie doesn’t seem to be sure whether they forget everything that happened or not – there’s this weird ‘they forgot’ but somehow they remember because they feel dread at seeing a number from Derry pop up on their phones. And then we get to the Chinese restaurant scene where the Losers reunite after so long. The dinner bit is great – and then suddenly the serious tone the film has had up to now goes when fortune cookies turn into cartoonish creatures. Now you tell me – is it actually believable that a bunch of adults should start to tear up a room and for the waitress to then walk in and just ask if everything was ok? Shouldn’t the patrons be wondering about what’s going on at that table? For goodness sake, their destructive behavior warranted the police being called and charges placed against them. Stupid. Anyway, Mike has found out some stuff about Pennywise and a possible way to destroy him, but in order for it to work, each Loser must find an artifact from their past to place in an ancient pot. Well, I’ve probably seen worse devices to separate characters in horror films. There’s some typical movie Native American druggy stuff that leads to a flashback [within a flashback] featuring strange CG things where you can almost see sod all due to the terrible filming. And then another flashback [‘flashback’ is this film’s middle name] shows the Losers’ bully Henry Bowers escaping the sewers, but then getting arrested for the murder of his father. Back in the present, Henry is in a mental hospital and escapes with Pennywise’s help – and may I ask what the hell Henry Bowers is even doing in the film? He adds literally nothing.
For the next hour we just get lots of ‘evil clown changes shape and goes AARRGGHH and runs at the camera a lot’. Oooh scary! A few moments are effective including that spooky scene with the old lady – until the punchline where the clearly inadequate CGI is wheeled out. This is interspersed with so much flashbacking that it seems like we’re watching one of those boring Friends episodes that consisted mainly of clips, and the pace draws to a total halt. I should by the way probably state that I’ve never read the novel of It, but I’ve read some other Stephen King and am aware that he can certainly frighten the reader, so I’ll just assume that this section works far better on the printed page. What’s worse for the film is that the dumb decision was made to digitally “de-age” the children this time around, presumably because the adult characters are remembering. I knew about this beforehand so it stuck out hugely to me, but I would think that anybody would notice that something is off. Mouths don’t move properly, looping of dialogue is obvious as is audio pitch correction on the voices – it all gives most of this footage an artificial, even amateurish, quality. The filmmakers clearly thought these scenes could get away with a gauzy/over-exposed look to them so that the CGI would blend in, but it’s still jarring. At least Marvel can do this sort of thing well. The climactic battle with Pennywise fares slightly better but still fails to build in excitement and just goes on forever, with quite a few extraneous bits that add nothing – and then Pennywise is killed off in the goofiest way possible. It’s very funny, but should it be very funny? Then again, by now it’s in keeping with the overall tone, and maybe they did it this way in the book, but they could surely have found a better way to show it.
Apparently some material from the huge novel wasn’t filmed, including some rather ‘far out’ stuff such as a huge turtle which may well have enlivened matters, but taken on its own as a film It Chapter Two is far too long, tediously stretching out its story without the film-making skill of someone like Ari Aster who was able to make every single minute on Midsommar count. Some sections, especially said climax, would benefit hugely from removing some footage. You wouldn’t notice the cuts. I like a lot of long movies, many of my favourites are very long – but this one could have easily ran two hours and been all the better for it. Roger Corman might even be able to turn it into a good movie – I think – though he’d need to start with the effects. It’s so depressing that weak CGI is now commonplace because Hollywood thinks that everything should be CG, despite this stretching the VFX companies so much that substandard work inevitably results. There are quite a few moments in It Chapter Two where practical effects would have worked much better. If Andy Muschietti does get to do this “super-cut”, then re-doing many of the effects would be a good idea. I would personally also remove Bill Hader’s constant quipping. The film’s humour often has that smug Marvel feel about it when it isn’t using that lazy ‘swearing as a punchline’ device, and not just undermines what is essentially a very dark tale but totally ruins one supposed scare scene when Juice Newton’s ‘Just Call Me Angel Of The Morning’ comes on. Why? It’s – stupid [there’s that word again]. It sometimes feels like the filmmakers really had no real faith in the story they were trying to tell, though isolated scenes like the killing of a little girl which has a real feeling of fear about it do remain to show what the movie could, and should, have been like.
Bill Skarsgard is still pretty effective as Pennywise when he’s allowed to show what he can do, but the continual digital overkill means that it’s hard to fully appreciate his performance, and this also means that Tim Curry peering out of that sewer grating remains spookier than all the hyper-CG’ed Skarsgard gesticulations these films can conjure up. It’s also a shame that the explanation for this creature is so vague, though I think it’s obvious that we were originally intended to learn more but that they cut the material so it can show up in a future Pennywise film. But in that case they’d have been better off not trying to provide an explanation at all! But then so much is vague in this movie. For example, it’s amazing how Bill suddenly gets a stutter back in Derry when he was 100% fine and didn’t have one in any of his previous scenes. We’re supposed to think it’s because of fear, but I’m pretty sure in It Chapter One he had it before Pennywise showed up. So linking it to fear was – stupid. On the other hand the romantic element results in some touching moments. Seeing as I can be a soppy git, I would have probably been rather affected by the reciting of that poem during burial alive if I hadn’t all but lost involvement with the proceedings about an hour before. There are also some great scene transitions like when a blanket of stars morphs into the underside of a puzzle Stan is working on. King’s cameo might be his most memorable and reinforces the idea that he’s actually a pretty decent actor. And it’s nice to have Benjamin Wallfisch’s music score, which is surprisingly dense and emotive for a score like this today, given an upfront mix. Oh yes, It Chapter Two has its good points alright, but they really are few and far between in what in a great big lumpy stodge of a movie.
Check out David S. Smith’s original and far kinder review of It Chapter Two here: https://horrorcultfilms.co.uk/2019/09/it-chapter-two-2019/