If Andy Muschietti’s 2017 It was little more than a funhouse of jerky, startling set pieces loosely strung into a narrative, then his It: Chapter Two aims to up the ante in the manner only a blockbuster sequel can. And that includes inserting a literal funhouse.
In the previous installment, the Losers Club, comprised of Bev (Sophia Lillis), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Bill (Jaeden Martell), Ritchie (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), were able to defeat the otherworldly evil Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard). But only for the time being.
The seven friends make a pact to return to the strange little town of Derry, Maine if “It” ever came back. And, lo and behold, 27 years later the inhuman thing in the form of an inhuman-looking clown returns. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), who never left Derry, calls in the Losers Club to reunite. But Bev (Jessica Chastain), Ben (Jay Ryan), Bill (James McAvoy), Ritchie (Bill Hader), Eddie (James Ransone), and Stanley (Stanley Uris) have almost entirely forgotten their time growing up in the town.
Much of Stephen King’s book is about recovered trauma and confronting the past in order to triumph over that trauma. In It: Chapter Two, written by The Conjuring extended universe screenwriter Gary Dauberman, the trauma is mostly just a plot device. How do we populate this movie with blockbuster-level horror set pieces? Well, they don’t remember Pennywise, so let’s give each one of them extended sequences of terror that jog their memory.
This structure is similar to the first film. Repetitive scenes occur, one after another, where each character is tormented by some form of the titular monster. The mileage of the set pieces vary (shoddy CGI depictions ruin the worst of these sequences). Regardless of how effective the set pieces will be for you, it contributes to a narrative structure that does not help make a case for the film’s hefty runtime.
Having gone into the screening already sighing at the two hour and 49 minute runtime, I aimed not to hold the film’s length against it. But when the film retreads large swathes of what made the first film so audience friendly—it is executed less craftily here, mind you—the pacing is hindered. You can feel the length, thus the set pieces start to exhaust you. By the time you reach the climax, with its lengthy scenes of pulsating light and discordant score, the experience can be headache-inducing.
This is not to say that the film is devoid of merit. Its casting helps its cause. Skarsgard remains the most fun aspect of these films, albeit here he is used to lesser effect. Bill Hader is given the most to do vis a vis character arc, and he makes the most of it. If anything, his performance keeps the film from slipping into flop territory. Chastain, McAvoy, and Ransone are also quite good.
The difference here, though, is the script’s lack of care given to their characters. Richie Tozier is given a complete arc. The rest of them are mostly given glimpses to their past without much care toward their potential futures. As such, the performances can only carry the weight so far. Watching them get terrorized can only be so unsettling.
This may be the biggest pitfall of It: Chapter Two. The visual effects have their hiccups, but by and large the film looks good. The set pieces are repetitive, but when they work they work. The runtime is a beast, but if you’re on board for the ride then you’re on board. The issue is these characters. The first film takes care to contextualize their imaginative fears within their real lives. They are humanized by this. We understand why they are attracted to each other through this unifying force of ostracization and fear.
In Chapter Two, they are entirely different people. However, we are given mere minutes to understand who they have become. Then, they are whisked back into their past, but they feel like strangers. For some romanticized reason, there remains a love triangle between three of the characters. And Bill retains a level of guilt over his brother’s disappearance. But they aren’t given arcs, and we are never really given entrance into their trauma.
If it is a funhouse you’re looking for, then It: Chapter Two may excite just as much as its predecessor. Muschietti clearly cares about how scenes are crafted and blend into an experience of bumps and jumps. But even the jump scares are bland. The imagery is less gripping. And you won’t be presented with much more than this mechanical funhouse.
It: Chapter Two: C+
As always, thanks for reading!
Like CineFiles on Facebook for updates on new articles and reviews
Check out my page on Letterboxd
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)