Closing The Book
Tripwire’s senior editor Andrew Colman reviews It Chapter Two, out now in cinemas in the UK and the US…
It Chapter Two
Director: Andy Muschetti
Stars: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa
It Chapter One’s first instalment was a surprisingly massive success at the box office two years ago, becoming the highest grossing horror movie ever. Featuring a fairly standard premise spliced with a sunset portrayal of small town rites of passage, (courtesy of the master of such form, Stephen King) it chimed with audiences when so many other killer clown flicks tanked. And now our heroes, the members of the Loser’s Club (as foreshadowed in the first movie) are summoned back to Derry by the sole alumnus who stayed at home, Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) now that the dribbling gothic monster clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) who terrorized the town with his morphing, alien-like teeth and red balloons has returned, twenty-seven years later.
Chapter One had the advantage of being as much about the plight of the innocent youngsters caught up in Pennywise’s web as their status as underdogs and bully fodder at their archetypally bleak high school – in a way, despite their being child actors without the obviously developed chops that their Chapter Two counterparts possess, it’s their naiveté, naturalism and surroundings that draws the audience in, rather than the sledgehammer theatre of Skarsgard’s penny dreadful grotesque (even though he is really very good). When the crew are called back to their old New England backwater, they are less vulnerable despite being directed to behave as if they were still in their teens – this is all accentuated by endless immersive flashbacks to 27 years earlier, which illustrate the fragility of their younger selves while the adult actors gurn, emote and contort themselves in an attempt to look like they mean it. Except for James McAvoy, who just looks mildly bemused.
Not that this sequel, cookie cutter as it might be, is lacking in thrills and the usual jump scares – its art direction cannot be faulted, drawing from many sources (Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, 1970s DC horror books, Beetlejuice, other schlock-horror perennials) and it has at times the subtlety to produce great suspense, but usually endcaps it with a predictable, thudding reveal. Which is nearly always Pennywise hurtling into view, turning into Spider-Man villain Venom, or whispering passive-aggressive taunts at the protagonists. It veers wildly from pared down noir to thunderous Sturm und Drang to Scooby Doo harum scarum, and is very padded towards the end with the usual false endings, the wanton maniac refusing as one would expect to go away. The adult cast put in a shift, especially Jessica Chastain as the adult Beverly, Bill Hader (Richie) and James Ransone (Eddie), but the tone and relentlessness of the film does make it difficult for them.
In the end what’s missing is the context – all the bit players from the first film, such as the psychopath Henry Bowers, added to the parochial, hermetic feel of the piece, making it as much about the characters as what happens to them – it achieved more in less time and was better scripted. Despite the effort involved to retain character relationships, especially after what the cast have been through in both films, it all feels a bit tacked on, especially the absurdly valedictory voiceover at the end, that attempts to ape King’s earlier classic Stand By Me. The framing device here should work, but after all the ultraviolence it just seems silly. If you’ve seen the first film, this is worth catching once, and at 169 minutes you certainly get your money’s worth. However it falls into the sequelitis trap of forgetting that with horror, like with other genres, often less is more.
Here’s the trailer for the film