It Chapter Two movie review: Overlong and overindulgent; it’s a better drama than a horror movie
It Chapter Two movie review: Featuring outstanding performances from Isaiah Mustafa and Bill Hader, the horror sequel is let down by its bloated length, and a poor third act.
It Chapter Two
Director - Andy Muschietti
Cast - Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, James Ransone, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, Bill Skarsgard
Unbearably long yet brimming with ambition, It Chapter Two is a film that seems constantly at odds with itself - it rears to rise above horror movie cliches, but often succumbs to the trappings of the genre.
Like the first film, Chapter Two is at its best not when it is spooking you with loud noises or gory decapitations, but when it is riding rickety bicycles with the wind in its hair; when it is leaping off cliffs for a swim in the lake; and when it is making juvenile jokes at the expense of mothers.
Watch the It Chapter Two trailer here
It is unfortunate then, that director Andy Muschietti (who was presumably granted some level of final cut after having delivered the biggest horror film in history), doubles down on the least interesting elements of the story in the film’s bloated final act. And with the exception of a couple of key changes, his movie is largely faithful to Stephen King’s novel, which, at over 1000 pages, if held in one’s hand could be used as an effective weapon against Pennywise the clown.
It has been 27 years since The Losers defeated the evil entity and saved the cursed town of Derry. And then they fled. Each of them, except Mike Hanlon, who chose to remain. Bill is a successful novelist whose inability to come up with good endings to his stories hangs like an albatross over his head (and his career); Ben has ‘lost a couple of pounds’ and is now a prominent architect - and ‘hot’, according to Richie, who in a slight diversion from the book, is a popular stand-up comedian. Eddie runs a limo business; Beverly is a designer. When a new wave of murders hits Derry, like clockwork 27 years after the previous one, Mike picks up his phone and makes five very ominous calls, summoning his old friends to fulfil the pact they made as children.
But the years have created a vacuum in the minds of The Losers, and the physical distance has erected barriers between them. Not only are their memories of the past foggy - perhaps a coping mechanism for their shared trauma - their friendship must first be rekindled. Old wounds are exposed; old heartbreaks and joys are reawakened. These are King mainstays; few writers have the ability to address themes of childhood pains and friendship with such clarity and insight. As children, we are braver, we operate on instinct and heart; adulthood brings with it a rationality that could easily be confused with fear. This is the idea that King taps into so deftly, time and again.
And to Muschietti’s credit, he does a tremendous job of interpreting these themes cinematically. Some of his scene transitions, especially in the film’s wickedly entertaining opening act, are stunning. Water droplets turn to blood, red balloons travel across decades, adults rub shoulders with their childhood selves as reality blends brilliantly with memory. By echoing scenes from the first film, and by revisiting locations of The Losers’ past adventures, Muschietti displays a visual ambition that reminded me of what Danny Boyle achieved in his Trainspotting sequel, another film about growing up.
And despite his regular indulgences, Muschietti seems to understand the crucial difference between true horror and imagined fear. It Chapter Two is a scary film, but not for reasons you’d expect. For instance, I was never affected by the sight of Pennywise the clown. Muschietti could have had him drool in my face and I wouldn’t care. But I was utterly engrossed by the personal stories of The Losers. Despite featuring multiple gruesome murders of children, there wasn’t a more terrifying scene in the film for me, than the one in which Beverly, a victim of childhood abuse at the hands of her father, is shown to be married to another violent man - a monster more unnerving than any clown can be. Is this the fate that awaits victims of abuse? Do they get accustomed to the violence? Do they crave it?
Can Bill ever forgive himself for being tangentially responsible for his brother Georgie’s death? Can Eddie emerge from under the shadow of his mother? Or Richie from his closet? When it is contemplating these questions, It Chapter Two floats. The rest of the time, it feels oddly restrained by the self-imposed limitations of its genre. With disappointing regularity, it resorts to cheap horror tricks like jump scares and needless gore, despite having proven that neither is necessary for an emotionally engaging experience.
In its dense second act, the films splits The Losers up and sends them on individual journeys of self-discovery. But instead of focussing on character work, Muschietti and his writer, Gary Dauberman, take this as an excuse to come up with half-a-dozen horror set pieces. Some of them, especially the Rosemary’s Baby inspired one with Beverly that we saw in the first trailer, are admittedly quite good. Another, in which Bill enters a hall of mirrors inspired by The Lady from Shanghai, is excellently staged.
But these elaborate set pieces are mostly a preamble for the extended ‘boss battle’ between The Losers and Pennywise, which simply did not work for me. Set against a confluence of loony lore and insane imagery, the CGI-heavy confrontation was exhausting, and emotionally empty. It is single-handedly responsible for ruining a film that routinely overextends its reach, and for suppressing the otherwise spectacular performances of its cast.
Of the newcomers, Jay Ryan as the adult Ben, Isaiah Mustafa as Mike, and Bill Hader as Richie are outstanding - each of them retaining the essence of the kid actors’ performances from the first film, and instilling into their characters a weariness that comes only with age.
At close to three hours long, It Chapter Two is a physically draining experience; one that requires the sort of riches that can afford exorbitantly priced theatre snacks, and patience that I doubt modern audiences have. It leaves you with the decidedly draining feeling of having aged 27 years yourself, albeit with more than a few fond memories to look back on.