IT: Chapter 2 - bigger, longer, sillier and not as scary
The Losers Cub is back and every so often one of them exclaims on screen: “you gotta be f***ing kidding me!” and it’s hard not to disagree. IT: Chapter 2 is the planned sequel to director Andy Muschietti’s 2017 IT: Chapter 1, or just “IT” as it was known then. As a fan of Stephen King’s novels, my first one was “Carrie”, I had read “IT” many years ago. I enjoyed the 1990 TV series with the astounding Tim Curry as Pennywise the clown. I also enjoyed Chapter 1, the 2017 adaptation for the big screen. It was well-paced and had plenty of scares, and not the: quiet, quiet, quiet - BANG! variety. Sadly, every scare in this second part is predictable and just not scary. You know when they meet a cute little Pomeranian puppy, it’s not going to end well, particularly when it is behind a door painted with the slogan “not scary at all”.
So where are we? Well, 27 years have passed since the events of the first film, Chapter 1. Our Goonies have grown up and are now adults. Or more accurately, grown movie stars: James McAvoy is Bill, a novelist and screenwriter still mourning the violent long-ago death of his little brother, Georgie; Jessica Chastain‘s Beverly remains the sensitive redhead with supernatural visions, only now she’s married to a rich creep who casually beats her (in a disturbing scene); Jay Ryan’s Ben has shed his baby fat and become a sleek real-estate mogul; Bill Hader’s Richie has successfully graduated to stand-up comedy, and James Ransone’s nervous Eddie now does risk assessment, fittingly, for an insurance company.
Andy Bean’s Stanley doesn’t get much new backstory but he seems to be in a nice, stable marriage. Only Mike (Isaiah Mustafah) has chosen to remain in tiny Derry, Maine — a picturesque village that just happens to sit over some kind of cursed carnival hellmouth. After an ugly pre-title incident there, it’s Mike who calls the gang back together to honour their long-ago blood oath, the one that pledged to finish the job if Pennywise (Bill Skarsgaard) ever returned to wreak his red-nose havoc again. Rather than just telling us this, the director has a full-blown, lengthy flashback to the oath-taking event.
One of the reasons Chapter 1 was so successful was that it tapped into the zeitgeist of Stranger Things and the wave of 80s nostalgia. It’s horror was mostly of the suggested type. Less was more. Chapter 2 is in-your-face horror. It clearly has a bigger budget. It’s as if the film can’t trust that something is scarier when it’s implied than when it’s constantly, literally personified by demonic old ladies, skittering man-faced spiders, and murderous, reanimated Paul Bunyans. They’re under the bed, in the basement, inside fortune cookies and bathroom stalls and, but of course, a nefarious, disorienting hall of mirrors.
Hader and Ransone do a lot to mitigate the long slog from one relentlessly ghoulish set piece to the next; their dry, side-mouthed humour brings much-needed levity in a movie that seems determined to reduce accomplished actors like McAvoy and Chastain to so much panicky meat-snack for Pennywise.
Some of Muschietti’s other filmmaking choices feel problematic too: the brutal gay-bashing incident that opens the movie (and to be fair, comes directly from the book) seems to signal nothing other than that it’s safer to tolerate a nasty bully than confront them; and the lone black character, Mustafah’s Mike, is also the only one who seems to have no discernible personality, other than “The Guy Who Stayed in Derry”.
Clocking in at 2 hours and 48 minutes, I am stating the obvious when I say this is a long film. I checked my watch. Twice.