‘It Chapter Two’ Review: The Really Scary Thing Is the Runtime
The first It film from 2017 covered roughly half the material in Stephen King’s epic horror novel of the same name. It ran 135 minutes. The new It Chapter Two covers the second half of the book. It runs almost 170 minutes. This ain’t It Chapter Two, this is It Chapters Two Through One Thousand.
It’s not just that it’s long (or It’s long); it feels long in a way other recent long movies like Avengers: Endgame or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood did not. It’s bloated with exposition, and because the film constantly pauses for flashbacks, nightmares, and even a drug-induced hallucination or two, the narrative never builds any appreciable momentum. Some of this is a function of King’s novel; its dense structure, monumental page count, and its sprawling cast — and yet much of the same creative team managed to condense that same writing down to a manageable and economical length the first time around. During It Chapter Two, that task eluded them. The TV miniseries version of It might have moved more swiftly, and that was a four-hour movie spread across two nights of broadcast TV.
In the first It, a group of teenagers discover an ancient evil entity feasting off children in their hometown of Derry, Maine. They manage to wound the monster they call “It” and send it back into hibernation, then swear a blood oath to return to Derry if It ever wakes back up. 27 years later, It (and his harlequin alter ego Pennywise, played by the preposterously creepy Bill Skarsgård) awakens, and begins its slaughter anew.
The only one of the so-called “Losers Club” who remained in Derry, Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), realizes what a new rash of child murders (and at least one hate crime, depicted on screen in surprising and upsetting detail) means. He summons the other Losers to come back home: Bill (James McAvoy), now a successful novelist and screenwriter, Beverly (Jessica Chastain), a fashion designer trapped in an abusive marriage, Richie (Bill Hader), a stand-up comic, Eddie (James Ransone) a hypochondriac who works in risk assessment, and Ben (Jay Ryan), a former chubby kid turned extremely handsome slab of man-meat who works as an architect or something.
The standout among the grownup Losers is Hader, who has the benefit of playing the one character in the story who gets to acknowledge the madness of Pennywise and his apparently limitless powers — i.e. doing a lot of running and screaming and cursing in pure terror. Some Stephen King fans have speculated about the sexuality of Richie and Eddie in the It novel, and director Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman bring that tension to the forefront, with Hader playing scenes that reveal Richie as a closeted gay man whose anxieties about his own identity are ruthlessly exploited by Pennywise. As a result, Hader gets both the best comedic lines and the most emotional arc in the film. It’s a really strong performance.
The other adult Losers are fine, and it’s nice to see the terrific young cast of Chapter One back (including Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie and Sophia Lillis as Bev). But the more Chapter Two tries to shoehorn in its kid cast, the more it becomes a classic example of too much of a good thing. There are six Losers, which means when they split up for most of the second act, there are six different stories to follow, and six MacGuffins, and six scare sequences with six different monsters — most of which are are surprisingly generic. There are a couple genuinely spooky moments, including one where McAvoy chases Pennywise into a haunted house at a traveling fair. But nothing matches the simple, potent terror of the slideshow scene from the first movie.
It Chapter Two is one of the most baffling films I have seen in long time. Largely the same creative team and a lot of the same cast made the first part of this story with great success. They pared King’s vast story down to a lean, smart horror movie that was also a very sad and sensitive coming-of-age story. What changed this time?
Without knowing the details of what happened behind the scenes, I think something about It itself — the monster specifically — works better in a story about children than adults. This amorphous creature that feeds on fear works perfectly in a parable for lost innocence and a story about confronting your neuroses. As kids, the Losers could just accept Pennywise as a monster, plain and simple.
As adults, they have to try to understand him in order to try to get rid of him, which leads to a lot of monologues about ancient Native American rituals and hallucinogenic microdosing and the supposed rules governing the behavior of devil monster clowns who can do literally anything — that don’t ultimately explain a whole lot about this mysterious creature anyway. The parade of subplots and explanations keep sinking a story that previously floated along so effectively. I saw It Chapter Two a few nights ago and I think it just ended.
-There was is so much water imagery in It that we made a video essay about it when the first film came out. That continues in Chapter Two in ways both obvious and subtle. The cleverest use of water in the film is when the Losers Club reconvenes after 27 years apart at a Chinese restaurant, and their tables are surrounded by giant fish tanks so that when Pennywise makes his presence felt, there’s at least a little water present.
-There is one very strange needle drop in this movie, right in the middle of a horror sequence, that is totally out of place, both within that scene and the film as a whole. It sticks out like a bright red balloon floating through the sky. I would like to know the story of how it got there.
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