10 September 2019
3.5 out of 5 stars
Pennywise is back and (almost) as good as the first time around. ‘IT: Chapter Two’ delivers on horror, romance and even some laughs, but not without its awkward moments.
The sequel picks up in the present day, 27 years after the setting of the first film. The first quarter of the movie is spent introducing the audience to the 40 somethings, surprisingly well-adjusted, characters in their post-Pennywise adulthood. All but one, Mike (played by Isaiah Mustafa, who also starred in ‘Madea’s Big Happy Family’), have moved out of Derry, the small town where the first film was set. Not coincidentally, Mike is also the only one who remembers anything about the traumas of their childhood.
A great deal of the first 40 minutes of the film is spent watching Mike laboriously try to convince the cohort to return to Derry where the memories of their traumas reside. In this timespan, the director attempts to pull off a great deal of nostalgia that can feel gratuitous at times.
There are brief bits of suspense scattered through the first half of the movie and a foreboding scene involving flying spiders with baby heads in a Chinese restaurant. However, the real horror does not begin until the group agrees to return to Derry and face the memories of their childhood. Upon their arrival and until the end of the film, the director, Andy Muschietti, floods the screen with a deluge of nasty characters taking form from the evil clown Pennywise, played once again by Bill Skarsgård.
Skarsgård delivers a truly chilling performance as IT. In ‘IT: Chapter Two,’ we learn that the evil clown is a manifestation of a primordial force that came long before the humans that it victimizes. This much is true to the book, but the movie’s long, supernatural backstory of Pennywise is an addition to Steven King’s original 1,100 paged novel.
The backstory serves more to complicate the plot than it does to advance any horror. Arguably, this addition worked as a stage for more shape-shifting clown scenes. Even then, the grotesque imagery is brought more to life by Skarsgård’s knack for horrifying smiles, than it is by the dizzying amount of hackneyed CGI-generated figures.
For the most part, the director stays true to King’s flair for metaphor and his signature tone of hometown horror, but certain subplots in the movie can feel out of place. The film indulges in the long backstory that involves at least 30 minutes of ancient tribal rituals and Indian Jones-esq imagery that can make you wonder if you are in the wrong theater at times. This backstory wouldn’t feel as arduous if it wasn’t preceded by 40 minutes of background and character development.
The director made an admirable attempt at restructuring parts of the architecture set in place by King. At best, this restructuring is a quaint renovation to a landmark story, at worst it’s akin to putting laminate over hardwood. In one scene, Mike drugs Bill (played by James McAvoy, who has also starred in ‘Split’) into a supernatural, almost psychedelic state where he is able to envision the arrival of the evil force billions of years ago, a force embodied by Pennywise in the present day of the movie. The addition of this backstory introduces plenty of meanders and rabbit-holes that don’t always fit into the logical structure of the film.
The movie is full of homages to the first chapter of the IT series and to other Stephen King classics. The nostalgic references sometimes fit but can feel awkward at times. The same could be said about the romantic conflict between Beverly (played by Jessica Chastaine), Ben (played by Jary Ryan) and Richie (played by Bill Hader). The love story between Beverly and Ben teeters between eye-rolling and eye-watering, but ultimately wins out to make the movie a genuinely heart-felt story of friendship.
While somewhat distracting, these flat points are merely punctuations between a mostly suspenseful plot. The 2 hour and 45-minute film does not find its groove for the first hour, so if you can stick around that long, you are in for a treat. Overall, the movie delivers a respectable handful of scares and plenty of heartfelt drama. Even 27 years later, it’s impossible not to root for the Losers’ Club.