By Anna Husted EBS FILM CRITIC
“IT Chapter Two” is an entertaining horror ride for fans of the Stephen King literary masterpiece, the 1990 mini television series and the first “IT” film released the same year. That said, “IT Chapter Two” is not for everyone: it just isn’t a very good film nor skates by on the horror, but I recommend it if you love King’s characters and horror.
We return to Derry, Maine, alongside our protagonists from “IT” who are now in their mid-30s and called back by their friend Mike to defeat the maniacal clown Pennywise (a comic, yet eerie Bill Skarsgard) who has returned to the small beaver-trapping town 27-years-later as promised.
The first film was one of my favorite movies of 2017. “IT” created a character-based story built on shame, the jump scare, character development through writing and nostalgia for the ‘80s; elements that are in part utilized by “IT Chapter Two,” but are (unfortunately) replaced with gratuitous flashbacks, unwarranted violence and, of all places the filmmakers needed to go, cultural insensitivity toward Native Americans. “IT Chapter Two” was trying too hard to be a big CGI box office hit instead of sticking to what the first film did best, nostalgia and classic horror motifs.
Two triumphs of the CGI work were the wicked wackiness of Pennywise’s eyes, face and tongue, along with all the ‘80s-“Army-of-Darkness”-type horror. In a Chinese restaurant scene, where we first get all our protagonists back together, their fortune cookies turn on them, sprouting legs and heads and various amorphous bits that attack them. This scene was hilarious and a bit frightening because it was odd for six adults to be afraid of cookies and because it was just zany enough to remind us, the audience, that Pennywise has the frightening ability to distort reality to his choosing.
But like many ensemble films on the market these days, there were too many characters to address. The film’s jumps from character to character only worked in the beginning, establishing the narrative, but become annoyingly and unnecessarily dominating. This continuous transitioning weakens the film because Bill (James McAvoy) continues to reinforce, in vain, that they can only defeat Pennywise if they stick together and because the best moments of “IT Chapter Two” are had when the great ensemble cast (Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, and James Ransome) is all together. The flashbacks for each character also cut in where clear act breaks should have been, e.g. instead of transitioning from the typical turn in Act II we just continue to be inundated by increasingly horror-less horrors both past and present. This extended and jumpy approach effectively eliminated any sense of an impending climax, giving less precedence to the ending.
Despite the cinematic and writing weaknesses of “IT Chapter Two,” I want to reiterate that I was entertained and hoping for more because I have grown to love these characters, including Pennywise, as Skarsgard’s rendition is one of the most disturbing horror characters of the 21st century. He mastered the jump scare and quirky smiles in “IT” and returned with more absurd and great moments in “IT Chapter Two.”
“IT Chapter Two” is now playing in theaters.
Anna Husted has a master’s in film studies from New York University. In Big Sky she can be found hiking a mountain or at the movies at Lone Peak Cinema. When not gazing at the silver screen or watching her new favorite TV show, she’s reading, fishing or roughhousing with her cat, Indiana Jones.