IT: CHAPTER TWO. Country: USA / Canada. Director: Andy Muschietti. Screenwriter: Gary Dauberman. Based on the novel by Stephen King. Cast: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Bill Skarsgard, Jasden Martell, Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Teach Grant, Nicholas Hamilton, Javier Botet, Xavier Dolan, Taylor Frey, Molly Atkinson, Joan Gregson, Stephen Bogaert. Language: English. Release date: September 6, 2019. Runtime: 170 minutes.
Mostly Indies rating: A–
Well, it’s here, it stormed into the box office and the story is told. Stephen King can rest knowing that even when the movie version of his much-beloved (and massive) 1986 novel “It” may never see a sufficiently dark and terrifying version without some significant alteration of the source of the horror, it goes without saying that at least the film version comes out swinging.
Truth be told, it is never an easy task to adapt a Stephen King novel. Much of the final story in It, for example, takes place in the astral plane and has ties to his Dark Tower macroverse, that to depict that one lengthy sequence would be next to impossible. Also, to its detriment, how scary can a clown truly be to kids raised on social media, YouTube, and a million other apps that can be conduits for the real horror: child predators? I’m going to have to say that in a way, It the movie is less scary this time, geared to hardcore Stephen King fans who have been reading him since Carrie, Salem’s Lot, and The Shining (the latter two who have yet to receive a truly gripping adaptation), but still, a compulsive watch.
So here we are, not quite back where we left off (although the first sequence, with the young Beverly (Sophia Lillis) apparently underwater, in a scene that recalls the moment she went into the deadlights — which thankfully get much more screen time here. Flash forward to today, 27 years later, when Adrian Mellon (Xavier Dolan) gets the extremely savage end of homophobia and meets an indescribable end at the hands of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), who’s come out from the dark and is, let’s say, “hangry” with a chip on his shoulder. Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), who’s since been devoted to tracking Pennywise’s every move before and after their apparent first defeat (and who seems certifiably bonkers; trauma has a way of clinging onto you well after the horror is over), now has to deliver the stomach-churning phone call to his six other childhood friends, not knowing if they will even respond or take his call. They do, in an excellent montage, the adult Losers are introduced with the barest of backstories presented. Bill (James McAvoy) is a successful horror novel writer who’s books end badly. Beverly (Jessica Chastain) is an abused housewife. Ben. (Jay Ryan) is a successful executive. Richie (Bill Hader, in a standout performance, mind you), is a stand-up comic going through a hard time. Eddie (James Ransone) is a limo driver. And finally, Stan (Andy Bean), who takes the call the hardest.
With the knowledge that It, the creature they once defeated, has returned, the remaining members of the Losers Club reunite in Derry. As it tends to happen, memories, long since repressed and buried, start to resurface, and with that, the ancient traumas, Of course, the question arises, why bother? They’re grown adults, what could they possibly be doing back in the town where they escaped from? Isn’t that what everyone does? Beverly, however, seen in the first frame of the movie, delivers the news: while under the deadlights, she saw them all dead. They have to go back, destroy the past, to be rid of it once and for all, and for them, that means performing the fated Ritual of Chud.
A huge chunk of the movie, from now on, becomes the six of them (well, really five; Mike has been here all along) walking through town, trying to pick up elements from their haunted past, in order to reunite later on. Of all of the solo scenes, Beverly’s was the one that stood out the most simply because her horror — which Pennywise in the novel manipulated) — is too real to ignore. When Pennywise appears to her in the body and shape of her father (Stephen Bogaert), without a dime of prosthetics, it’s more frightening than any of his disguises, which the movie curiously doesn’t use to its advantage. Another scene, this time not involving any one of the main cast members but a little girl who has a mole on her face, is truly terrifying because of its sparseness of special effects and Pennywise’s distorted maw of anticipation.
Overall, It is a solid piece of work that seen as a whole alongside the first movie will reveal a director who understands childhood fears and the genre, but also, reveal flaws in King’s own narrative. It is no secret that King nowadays, free of any editing constraints, has made a habit of producing extremely long works of fiction that go on and on for pages, chapters, even entire sections, without advancing the plot, The motive is to bring forward not just backstory, but a credible universe for people to see where his characters, good, bad, major, and even minor, are coming from. That in the literary world is okay — eventually you realize you will get to where the “meat” of the story is. However when translating into cinema, it just does not work. A lengthy scene where Bill rediscovers his old bike serves one self-indulgent pat-in-the-back moment. It is for fans only. Towards the end we are given a double dose of a similar scene from the first when Bill first encountered Pennywise in the flooded basement and near the end when the Losers go into the sewers. A little editing could have worked.
Also, and I’m just realizing it now: absent from both movies is Derry itself. Derry is supposed to be a haunted small town. Pennywise, a creature who defies explanation and whose presence alone could drive a person insane within seconds, feeds on the town’s residents equally, magnifying their adult prejudices and petty motives until they reach criminal levels (hence, the murder of Adrian Mellon) while still feeding on children. Derry as a character is corruption itself, a tainted place that offers no solace, no comfort, and the nagging feeling that some invisible, omnipresent evil is over them, literally playing them against each other like a puppet master. [It is a theme King started in Salem’s Lot and would revisit again in The Stand and Needful Things.] It’s a crying shame that this wasn’t woven into the fabric of the narrative except for the very first portion of the 2017 movie. It would have made the entire setting even more disturbing for the adults who come back, making their return to trauma even more horrible to stomach.
And lastly, presenting Pennywise continually as a clown eventually wears itself thin. In the book, he (it) was anything: a constant shapeshifter who was out for revenge against the “others” who had maimed it. At least, the battle of wills is done in a striking, clever, and even poignant way, something I would not have seen coming. So, for all its missteps, which even involve the use of CGI to make some of the kids look younger than they do and some awful use of Javier Botet as a bouncing horror that threatens Jessica Chastain, It delivers, does not include room for a potential sequel, and is now, over.