Slimy… but satisfying.
Another twenty-seven years has passed, and evil has awoken again in Derry, Maine. Suspecting “Pennywise” (Bill Skarsgård) is up to his bloody old tricks, an adult Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) calls back the old gang to fufill their oath if the evil clown ever returned. But the distance between Derry and its former traumatized residents has taken a toll, and while their existential dread still exists, the origin of it has become muddled in their minds. As the Losers reunite and their memories painfully return, lost secrets and desires kept from one another are revealed… and the dark thing they faced down still craves the ones who got away.
When the coming-of-age Stephen King horror novel It got a cinematic upgrade in 2017, only the childhood years of the Loser’s Club were covered, leaving the promise of the second-half adaptation of the novel. With a dream cast for the adult versions of the characters, the completion of the story would have to tie the narratives together as a standalone film as well. While more atmospheric than actually frightening (unless you’re a Coulrophobe), the anticipation for what Chapter Two hopes to live up to is high. Will the adult losers succeed, or does it all sink back into the greywater under its own weight?
It shouldn’t be a mystery why director Andy Muschietti keeps referencing A Nightmare On Elm Street upon a cinema marquee in both chapters of It. Derry is Springwood, a town that mirrors the monster occupying and inhabiting it. This incarnation of Pennywise inhabits the spirit of Freddy Krueger: terrorizing youth by preying on their secret fears with nightmarish illusions and shape-shifting. Of all eighties horror franchises, Elm Street stood out that Freddy’s victims rarely transgressed and often aggressively fought back, but audiences expecting much more Pennywise may be disappointed the story centers away from the entity this time around. While Chapter One felt very complete as a stand-alone film, the second half’s non-linear flashbacks to finish the story suffers from running-time fatigue while rewarding the completionist who hangs onto every detailed breadcrumb.
Skarsgård’s Pennywise was remade more interesting than the actual subject the Stephen King novel intended, perhaps too much so and an incidental victim of its own success; it almost feels like there should have been more of the Dancing Clown in Chapter Two. Bill Hader’s adult Richie steals every scene he’s in, even when he’s just being a jerk; think Bill Murray in Ghostbusters. James Ransone as adult hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak is a close second to Hader, but Jessica Chastain and especially James McAvoy seem oddly underutilized. In general, the moment all the kid characters (Jaeden Martell, Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs, and Jeremy Ray Taylor) pop back on screen, all the trauma of their adult counterparts melts away into a puddle of nostalgia, and the adult cast seems pitted against that each time they reappear.
A lack of authority figures looms large — no cops, no innkeepers, no carnival security — putting modern Derry in a haze without calling attention to it and providing zero safety net for the Losers. Sadly, the appearance of adult Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) seemed rather uneventful (twice) while “dead” Hockstetter (Owen Teague) also had a moment’s promise left unfulfilled. Moviegoers seeking pre-Halloween jump-scares and creepy atmosphere will get their money’s worth, but fans who immediately imagined moving into the Well House on Neibolt Street on sight alone will joyously snuggle in. Additionally, the proposed rework combining the two chapters into a single streamlined film could become one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King horror novel to date, but for now, we’ll work with what we have.
It Chapter Two is rated R for disturbing violent content and bloody images throughout, pervasive language, some crude sexual material, and failure to heed the lesson of not playing with your food.
Three skull recommendation out of four
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