Pennywise is back, brutally killing a gay man after a violent, homophobic encounter (apparently a ‘controversial’ inclusion according to clickbait experts) in the opening moments, announcing his return from hibernation. Mike soon pieces together other incidents in the area and calls his old friends to reunite, as he has never left Derry.
They aren’t hot on the idea, but they all meet Mike and find that they don’t remember much, if anything, about the town they grew up in. Soon, the one of most creatively spooky sequences (a large flying insect with the face of a baby, anyone?) prompts most of the group to leave dodge as quickly as possible, with many ‘fucks’ thrown in Mike’s direction for bringing them to town just to experience this. He is however able to convince Bill to hear him out, and Mike helps Bill to recall every event that Mike can, who has seemingly stayed in Derry to wait for the 27-year cycle to repeat itself. Slowly the rest of the characters come to an agreement to stay and honour their promise.
This second chapter of Stephen King’s masterful novel is, much like the first, a strange mix of fantastically memorable scenes and, unfortunately, a hefty dose of lazy jump-scares that could appear almost anywhere in the film with the same effect, or lack thereof.
This is compounded by a large dish of lame humour. Let’s ignore the attempts at ‘jokes’ that occur when the action isn’t heating up, as more importantly, potentially superb sequences are routinely ruined by attempts at humour.
When the most horrific parts of your horror film have large portions of the audience bursting into laughter, there is something amiss. Amusingly, these sequences indeed feature the funniest moments, which only succeed in murdering scenes obviously intended to scare
Oddly enough, the casting of Bill Hader as the wise-cracking Richie is the principle reason for this. Rather that having him play against type for example, his fantastic comic chops harm nearly every action scene he is a part of as he persists with one-liners. They are certainly funny thanks to his well-known fantastic comic delivery and timing, but this is the problem. If there is any way to kill a potentially scary scene, inserting a wisecrack or two near guarantees success.
Hader can hardly be blamed, he is simply working from the material he has been given. This problem, much less evident in the first chapter, lands on the shoulders of now sole screenwriter Gary Dauberman, who’s increased responsibility is painfully obvious. Recent efforts of his include The Nun and yet another Annabelle film, both of which were, to put it nicely, far from great.
Additionally, nearly every moment that truly matters within most action scenes suffer from his script, which at times devolve into the words ‘fuck’ and ‘motherfucker’ being yelled an embarrassing amount of times. Yes, this is an R-rated film, but there is a limit where eventually the words start to sound meaningless and almost laughable.
A smaller problem with these moments is the sometimes overwhelming music by Benjamin Wallfisch that can be too prominent in the mix, often not content to sit back and simply compliment the action. Outside of these scenes, it simply sounds generic and forgettable, which is surprising given his experience working as a composer.
Funnily enough, Hader is easily the most impressive of the cast. However James McAvoy seems to be on autopilot, as is Chastain, while Jay White as Ben, yet another product of the Australian soap opera Neighbours, at least seems to be trying. Isaiah Mustafa as Mike is solid and is hopefully a name to watch in the future.
It is disappointing, though unfortunately unsurprising, as much like the first chapter, Mike’s background as a child is barely explored, unlike the rest of the crew. This is primarily an issue due to him clearly being the most important character of the two films as a whole, not to mention that the book does delve into his story.
Gripes aside, which of course I have many, the film excellently explores the delicate nature of memory, and how we unconsciously decide what is forgotten and what remain as clear memories, often based on feelings of guilt, shame or abuse, all of which apply to the young heroes in different ways. It also accurately shows that memories can be repressed, as well as how they can sometimes be ‘unlocked’ when familiar sights, locations or feelings trigger flashbacks. This last point is made emphatically as the first act, for the most, part consists of the characters reliving their traumatic past, convincing them that Mike isn’t fooling around.
Obviously the nature of fear plays a large part in how Pennywise approaches his prey, and despite the climax in which ‘poorly-scripted’ might as well be engraved on the screen, it invokes thought as to what we fear subconsciously as opposed to how we perceive them logically. They all have their own unique fears, which all play off each other well and their determination to conquer them recreate old bonds as they walk towards their inevitable attempt to defeat Pennywise.
The incarnations of the characters’ fears are fantastically creative and create legitimate tension when there aren’t any attempts at humour. An air of confusion appropriately hangs in the air regarding reality versus fear, surrounding much of the film, though this does leave one plot strand involving a character from the previous film swinging aimlessly in the wind. The few scenes involving this character seem real as they leave physical scars, but none of this serves any purpose and this sub-plot is left unfinished well before the end. Perhaps it is intentionally confusing and simply another manifestation of a fear, but I don’t buy it.
These scenes as well other overlong sequences throughout add to the severely bloated run-time as yet another film demonstrates that the role of the editor is becoming less important as the years go by. First Endgame, next Tarantino’s overlong mess, and now this.
Chapter 2 is not very different from Chapter 1. Both are confused movies that try to cover more ground than they are capable of, and unless you are particularly squeamish, or young, it is hard to imagine any of the more ‘shocking’ scenes truly scaring anyone. Yes, there is more blood, more disgusting imagery. But really, is this truly scary? Obviously, each viewer will have a different feeling about that.
Or perhaps I am disturbingly de-sensitised, which is most certainly a possibility. Either way though, this is just another film filled with jump-scares, albeit one that displays impressive creativity. Ultimately, Chapter 2 is its own worst enemy, slicing its best scenes with its own knife.
A final, rather pointless note – in both of these films, what is it with all the characters heavily emphasising the word ‘It’ every time they say the word, as if they are saying it with a capital letter and are aware of the film’s title. Its not a bad thing, its just… weird.
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