It Chapter 2 - an entertaining horror rollercoaster that outstays its welcome
Pennywise is back
The 2017 adaptation of Stephen King's beloved clown horror It was able to condense the epic tome down into workable cinematic form by chopping its narrative in half. It focused just on the protagonists' battles with demon Pennywise as children (set during the 1950s in the novel, but updated to the 1980s for the screen), and jettisoned the second section, where the characters reunited back in their home town of Derry in the present day.
Not only was it an economic storytelling choice, but it also set the table perfectly for the lucrative sequel. So now we have It Chapter 2, with the child cast now played by a number of famous adult faces, including James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader and Ziggy from The Wire, who all reconvene 27 years later when Pennywise reappears, to take him down once and for all.
As the conclusion to an epic saga, it works. But as a stand alone movie experience it is much less satisfying. The first It was filled with dread and mystery – what was this ancient evil? Why was it haunting this town? What was its purpose and how could it be defeated?
But by the sequel, all those questions have been answered. So all that happens is that Ben (Isaiah Mustafa), the only one of the Losers to remain in their home town, reunites the group, and then for the next two hours Pennywise chases them around Derry, Scooby-Doo style. There is some MacGuffin about each member of the Losers having to find an object sacred them to in order to defeat Pennywise, but all of them just fall into the their respective laps, and there is no real driving force or structure to the film other than the scares. It doesn’t help either that the evil clown’s reality-bending powers are never clearly defined. You are never completely sure what spooky vision actually presents real danger to the characters, or if it will just snap back to reality with no consequence.
But none of that is really the point. This movie is a haunted house, a roller coaster. Returning director Andy Muschietti knows how to set up a set piece, how to do a jump scare and how to get you screaming along with the characters on screen. This is big-budget horror that uses state of the art CGI to create nightmarish visions, and it constantly throws inventive set-pieces at you. A giant fibreglass woodsman tries to chop up people, a chemist’s basement becomes a terrifying Silent Hill style operating theatre, and somehow Muschietti manages to make both a skateboard and some fortunate cookies really scary. Still, at nearly three hours long, it all begins to drag towards the end when we get to the inevitable big pre-vis’d finale.
The switch to contemporary times does also kill some of the nostalgic vibes made the first part so enjoyable. Instead of the Stand By Me feel of kids off on their bikes, we get Bill Hader undercutting the tension by rattling off one-liners, and the real-feeling friendships of the young cast is hard to replicate when they are replaced with movie stars who come with baggage and established personas. That’s not to say the Stephen King magic is lost by and any means, with some deliberate nods to both The Shining and Stand By Me, and King himself even having an extended cameo.
In a summer that has given us a horror film as overpowering and original as Midsommar, It Chapter 2 can’t help but feel a little by the numbers. Still, in an era where blockbuster filmmaking is increasingly being limited the same genres, franchises and studios, it is encouraging to see that big-budget horror is still a viable proposition for Hollywood.