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In the wake of the record-breaking success of 2017’s It (dubbed “horror’s highest-grossing hit”, albeit unadjusted for inflation), this follow-up brings the Stephen King story to an end, not with a whimper but with several spectacular bangs. More epic in both scope and length than its predecessor (the running time outstrips even Tarantino’s ultra-indulgent Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Andy Muschietti’s good-looking sequel has visual style to spare as it pits its now-adult antiheroes against an ever-expanding creepshow of shrieking scary monsters and crawly super creeps. From giant, drooling clowns to grotesque insect apparitions and spiderlike shape-shifters, It Chapter Two doesn’t skimp on the funhouse theatrics, even riffing on a quotable moment from John Carpenter’s The Thing, which remains a monstrous benchmark for mind-bending 80s horror. Yet in stretching its canvas so far, the film also bursts the balloon-like charm of its predecessor, throwing more at the audience while ultimately landing less of an engaging emotional punch.
Twenty-seven years after the Goonies-inflected adventures of the first film, the former members of the Losers’ Club from Derry, Maine (now played by a new, grownup cast), have gone their separate ways, all but forgetting the oath they swore about their ghoulish childhood nemesis: “If it ever comes back, we’ll come back too.” Each has their own life, although the past still haunts them. Bill (James McAvoy) is a popular writer who has a problem with endings; Beverly (Jessica Chastain) has swapped an abusive father for an equally toxic husband; Ben (Jay Ryan) is still lovelorn despite remodelling himself as a ripped success story; Eddie (James Ransone) has retreated into risk assessment; Richie (Bill Hader) has funnelled his insecurities into standup comedy; and Stanley (Andy Bean) lives in terror of his childhood nightmare returning. Only Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) has stayed in Derry, awaiting an echo of former horrors that will call his comrades to “come home, come home”.
Things start promisingly with a nostalgic roundup that reunites the old gang in a Chinese restaurant, laying the table for what is to come. An encounter with devilish fortune cookies soon mutates into a shiversome set piece, the palpable chills of which are promptly undercut by a reassuring pay-off gag (“Can we get the check?”). This is a recurrent trope: whenever fear rears its ugly head, humour is swiftly deployed to rebalance the upbeat atmosphere, undercutting any genuine sense of dread. The titular beast may feed on fright, but this movie (like its predecessor) doesn’t really want to scare us beyond delivering the odd jolt. For all its dark secrets (repressed guilt, violent homophobia, post-traumatic amnesia) and visions of sewers full of dead children, the film retains a mainstream popcorn sensibility, as carnivalesque as Derry’s festival fairground.
Nods to horror classics abound, from the ripped shower curtain of Psycho to the “Here’s Johnny!” refrain from The Shining, but once again it’s the family-friendly fantasies of Steven Spielberg that cast the longest shadow. From cave-bound Indiana Jones-style action to otherworldly sequences that play out like the third act of Poltergeist (the PG-rated horror on which writer-producer Spielberg cracked the whip), Muschietti draws heavily on the ET director’s back catalogue. When Bill buys back his childhood bike from a grouchy antiquities dealer (one of several cute cameos), you half-expect it to fly.
There are some elegantly orchestrated transitions between the young and old incarnations of these characters, although an abundance of flashbacks threatens to overcomplicate an already multistranded narrative. At times, the story becomes so episodic that it starts to feel like a TV miniseries, reminding us of Tommy Lee Wallace’s flawed yet oddly beloved 1990 adaptation. But for all its talk about remembering and forgetting – the interplay between past and present – the film still seems to function largely in the moment, offering fleeting thrills that work in isolation rather than in context. The best of these are eerily understated: a lilting sing-song sentence from the leering Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård, still excellently sinister); a glimpse of an old woman moving in a mysterious way, recalling the scuttling of Mrs Clelia in The Exorcist III or the reverse-spooled staccato stride of Sadako from Ringu.
Benjamin Wallfisch’s expansive score amplifies the sense of adventure, while Checco Varese’s widescreen cinematography effectively counterposes bright vistas with dark spaces. It adds up to a peculiar mix of the crowd-pleasing and the patience-testing, veering wildly between the entertaining and the frustrating, built round a story that ventures inexorably underground without ever getting to the heart of what lies beneath.
Source: The Guardian
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