Review of “IT Chapter 2”

The Losers Club has returned to Derry, but it isn’t a happy reunion. All but one of the childhood friends has moved away in the 27 years since they defeated the demon clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard). Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) works in Derry and has been keeping an eye out for any strange murders. As the Derry Carnival is starting, a young gay man is beaten by local youths and thrown off a bridge into the river. Pennywise pulls the man out of the river and bites out his heart. Body parts of the young man are found, and Mike hears of the death on the police scanner. When he investigates the scene, he knows Pennywise is back. Mike contacts the rest of the Losers: Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain), Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy), Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan), Richie Tozier (Bill Hader), Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone) and Stanley Uris (Andy Bean) has all moved away and found successful careers and variously successful relationships. Also, they’ve all mostly forgotten their lives in Derry. Mike contacts each of them and they all return to their childhood home, except for Stanley. Mike explains Pennywise is back, but he has a plan to kill the clown once and for all. Mike spent time with a local Native American tribe and believes he has learned enough of their magic to kill Pennywise. The rest of the gang is skeptical and most plan on leaving, but Mike convinces Bill the plan will work and their experiences since returning to Derry leads them to believe they must try.

“IT Chapter 2” was one of my most anticipated films. I loved “IT Chapter 1” and was looking forward to diving into what promised to be a carnival haunted house full of scares and suspense, plus some humor, as the adult versions of the Losers Club would likely mirror their childhood counterparts to a great degree. Director Andy Muschietti crafted a winning formula in the first film, set box office records for a horror film and was deeper than most scary movies with believable relationships between believable characters. Perhaps my expectations were too high for the sequel, as “IT Chapter Two” isn’t the kind of carnival ride I was hoping for.

Translating a dense work like a Stephen King novel in a movie script must be a daunting task. King is not known for his economical prose. “IT” also contains a sex scene between the Losers that would have been difficult to put on screen in a form audiences wouldn’t find offensive. As with all book-to-screen adaptations, material must be cut, combined and truncated to fit within a film narrative. While this was successfully done in the first film, apparently meeting with approval from King himself, the second film may have tried too hard to avoid cutting material thought too important to be left out. “IT Chapter 2” suffers from having too much material to choose from.

The film moves at a leisurely pace, never feeling like it was in any hurry to get from one Pennywise kill to another. While starting with a bang, the movie then takes its time by reintroducing us to the adult versions of the Losers Club. Each is allowed the time to establish how much of their childhood character remains and all but one is instantly recognizable. The adult Ben Hanscom is tall and buff and easily speaks his mind to those in power. He’s a successful architect with six-pack abs. Otherwise, all the Losers maintained the characteristics of their youth. Under pressure, Bill still stutters, Eddie is still a hypochondriac with a wife similar to his mother, Beverly has married an abuse man similar to her father, Richie still has a smart mouth that makes him a hit as a standup comic, Mike is stoic and smart, working in the library in Derry, and Stanley is still shy and frightened of almost everything. These reintroductions take a while and are somewhat duplicated by a scene where they meet for the first time back in Derry at a Chinese restaurant. Between this and the parts of the movie where they go looking for totems from their past to sacrifice in a ritual that may lead to Pennywise’ demise, the movie spends a great deal of time showing us who these people are, and were, as there are flashbacks to when they were kids. Much of this feels redundant, as we’ve seen the first movie and know these kids as well as we ever will. Since none of them seem to have grown much emotionally, spending a great deal of time showing us who they are now is a waste.

These long stretches of character time are broken up by appearances from Pennywise and the monstrous forms he assumes. He becomes a giant statue of Paul Bunyon, a gangly old naked witch, a leper, Bill’s dead brother Georgie, and the decaying corpse of Patrick Hockstetter, a victim from the first film. These moments are the best parts of the film as we see the Losers Club facing their fears and usually screaming and running away. I realize a horror movie must have the quiet times to set up the scares, however, “IT Chapter 2” takes so much quiet time that the scary parts feel like they don’t last long enough to make it worth the wait.

Much like the first film, “IT Chapter 2” isn’t that scary. The first film did a great job of building tension and dread even if the monster moments weren’t that shocking. Perhaps knowing what was coming (the appearance of Pennywise and its other forms) took the edge off the scares. Maybe they weren’t set up as well as the first film. The only time I was truly frightened was when Beverly went back to her father’s apartment to retrieve the postcard with Ben’s love poem. She had to pry off a baseboard and some large cockroaches scurried out. That moment made me jump. Otherwise, “IT Chapter 2” lacks any significant scary moments.

Some of the CGI monsters in the film aren’t very good. The old naked witch is clearly animated, along with a monster that faces off with Eddie in the basement of a pharmacy. It’s like they didn’t have time to finish the CGI to make it look the best they could. Maybe they didn’t think they needed to put the finishing touches on the texture of the skin or the oozing of the rotting flesh to get the point across. I knew what I was looking at, but also knew it looked fake.

Finally, and I won’t spoil anything, the ending seemed silly. They are battling an immortal enemy and the way they face off against it was similar to a playground fight. It left me feeling I’d wasted my 2 hours and 45 minutes and also threw away the goodwill from the first film. As I’ve gained more distance from the movie, I’m writing this more than 24 hours since I walked out of the theater, I’m discovering more aspects of the film I find lacking.

“IT Chapter 2” is rated R for disturbing violent content and bloody images throughout, pervasive language, and some crude sexual material. We see a gay couple beaten up with one thrown off a bridge into a river. Pennywise mouth grows rows of sharp teeth that kill three people on screen, with one victim exploding in a spray of blood. There are two stabbings, one in the chest and one in the face, and a hatchet is buried in one person’s head. One person is buried alive and another is locked in a bathroom flooding with blood. A character is impaled with a giant claw. Pennywise, the form of a child is drowned then, in another form, shot in the head. The crude sexual material is the insults hurled between Eddie and Richie. Foul language is common.

A bright spot in the film is the performance of Bill Hader as adult Richie Tozier. Hader is the expletive-filled voice of reason amongst the Losers. He is the everyman that says what everyone else is too polite to say. Hader and James Ransone (adult Eddie) play off each other well and is the closest thing we have to the energy and memory of the first film. Sadly, those two and Skarsgard’s Pennywise are all that will remind you of “IT Chapter 1.” The rest of the film is otherwise a lifeless slog that squanders a very good cast and a terrific villain.

In my video review I gave the film three stars but, in a first, “IT Chapter 2” is now downgraded to two stars. It is a disappointment.

Two new films open this week. One is an arthouse mystery while the other features Jennifer Lopez as a stripper. I wonder which one I’ll see. Whichever, I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Goldfinch—

Hustlers—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “IT”

Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) is dealing with the mysterious loss of his little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) with the help of his friends: Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), A.K.A. “Trash Mouth” Tozier, Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), a sickly boy that can’t go anywhere without his inhaler and Stan Uris (Wyatt Oleff), a germaphobe preparing for his bar mitzvah under the glaring eye of his rabbi father. Constantly under threat of a beating by a gang of bullies lead by Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) that calls them the Losers Club, Bill and his buddies are just trying to navigate school and deal with the traumas going on in their lives. Soon to join their group is Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the “new kid” that has no friends but has the wrath of the bullies in common with the Losers Club. He has a crush on Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), a girl that is rumored to be the school tramp but really is living a different kind of hell with her abusive father. The most outside of the outsiders is Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), an orphan living with his grandfather and working on his sheep farm. Mike is homeschooled and is one of the few African-Americans in Derry. This draws particularly violent attention from Bowers and his bully friends. But the scariest thing in Derry is an ancient evil that lives in the sewers and comes out every 27 years to feed on the flesh and fear of children: His name is Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard). Pennywise takes on the appearance of a clown to lure children in close so he can collect them. He ripped Georgie’s arm off before dragging him down into the sewers. Now more children are going missing and no one knows what to do about it or who will be next. Investigating Georgie’s disappearance, Bill has put together that whatever is killing the kids of Derry, it travels through the sewers. He also learns he and his friends have all seen Pennywise and been threatened by him. Bill wants to find it and kill it.

Based on Steven King’s book of the same name, “IT” was brought to life in a 1990 two part TV movie starring Tim Curry as the clown. For the time, it wasn’t half bad. It had a fair number of known TV actors playing the grown-up versions of the kids in a final showdown with Pennywise. While it had limitations of special effects and a TV budget the four hour production did find an audience and a place in my memory. Now director Andy Muschietti has more money, digital effect and more time to devote to a more faithful telling of the story of a killer clown preying on the children of a small town. “IT” is a sizable improvement over its TV ancestor.

The best part of the film is probably the ensemble cast of terrific young actors making up the Losers Club. From top to bottom, the entire group is perfect. The standouts are Finn Wolfhard as Richie Tozier and Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie Kaspbrak. Wolfhard’s Richie is the kid that tries too hard to be the leader of the group when everyone knows he’s not it. Richie wears thick glasses and has the mouth of a horny sailor. Dropping inappropriate insults and one-liners like bad habits, Wolfhard is certainly the most entertaining member of the group.

A close second is Grazer’s Eddie. A hypochondriac with an overprotective mother, Eddie is constantly on the lookout for anything that might make him sick. The rundown of everything in the drainage tunnel that likely will give him some sort of infection is hilarious; particularly since much of the medical information he spouts is wrong. He tells a long story of how a friend of his mother’s told her about a friend of his that caught AIDS from the pole of a subway. He becomes more and more frantic as his get deeper into the story and the misinformation just keeps growing. While all the kids are great these two really stand out.

What also is impressive about the young cast is their depth of emotion in dealing not only with the threat of Pennywise but the dangers within their own families. There isn’t a missed beat or out of place reaction as we get brief looks inside the lives of almost all the kids. Most troubling of course is Beverly and her sexually abusive father. While nothing is shown on screen, it is clear there is something inappropriate about the way her father touches and talks to his young daughter. We don’t know where Beverly’s mother is or why she isn’t around but clearly there is something out of whack about this household over and above their poverty. Sophia Lillis shines in these dark scenes as she tries to sneak past her father, hoping he won’t notice she’s there. Starting the movie with long hair, Beverly cuts it short in an act of defiance and an effort to make herself look less attractive to her father. It is at once both a heartbreaking and liberating scene as she takes a pair of shears to her long auburn locks. None of the children in the story have easy or perfect lives and the cast is able to bring a surprising amount of depth and maturity to these complex roles.

Another interesting aspect of the film is how all the adults seem to be just a little off. There’s a creepy pharmacist that’s a little too greasy and blond and takes too much of an interest in Beverly. Eddie’s mom is sedentary, very overweight and requires too much attention from her own son. There’s a library worker lurking in the background behind Ben taking too much of an interest in the boy. The local cop lurks around too much and is clearly abusive to his son that happens to be the leader of the bullies. Bill’s dad is distant and doesn’t want him to continue investigating Georgie’s disappearance. None of it is over-the-top but there’s something not right about nearly every adult character we see.

Of course the most not right character of them all is Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise. Skarsgard is an energetic killer clown often dancing or hopping or twisting himself into and out of difficult shapes. His voice is screeching at times and soothing at others. When we first meet Pennywise he’s talking to Georgie from a storm drain in the street. He’s smiling and seems friendly but you notice drool dripping from his mouth and his glowing red eyes. It isn’t long before Pennywise shows his true colors, and his mouth full of jagged sharp teeth, and rips Georgie’s arm off then drags him into the sewer. Even though you know something bad is going to happen (it must since this is the first few minutes of the movie) it still comes as something of a surprise when Pennywise’ mouth opens overly large and row after row of teeth is exposed, quickly clamping down on Georgie and sealing his fate.

Director Andy Muschietti uses Pennywise sparingly but effectively. It feels like Pennywise is in every scene but he disappears for long stretches of the movie only to pop back in briefly to try and eat one of the Loser’s Club. Muschietti digitally centers the clown’s face in a couple of scenes so no matter how he moves his face is always the focal point of the image. It’s an effective technique that keeps the audience centered on that malevolent mouth and the damage it is waiting to inflict on its next victim. Pennywise manages to be both terrifying and interesting and we may get to learn more about him in the sequel.

“IT” is rated R for language, bloody images and violence/horror. We see the aforementioned biting off of Georgie’s arm. A character has a capital “H” carved in his stomach with a knife. Various people are shown in various states of decay. Several people are shown being hit by rocks. A woman from an impressionist painting comes to life and threatens one of the children. A man described as a leper is shown with oozing face sores. A person is shown getting their throat stabbed by a knife and bleeding profusely. A person is shown being smacked in the head with a toilet tank lid and bleeding a great deal. A bathroom sink begins gushing blood out of the drain. A character is shown being impaled with an iron bar a couple of times. Foul language is common throughout the film.

A second chapter is coming. The enormous opening weekend box office for “IT” means a sequel is already being worked on. This film will likely focus on the adult versions of the kids coming back to Derry to face off with Pennywise in a battle to the death and, if reports are to be believed, we’ll also learn more about the history of the clown. I hope we get a flashback as I’d like to see the kids again because they are such good actors. Everyone watching the film will likely see themselves or someone they know in the characters. While “IT” may not be the scariest movie ever released it works as a film that has memorable characters behaving in a way that is relatable and believable. It is a minor miracle that “IT” works on so many levels.

“IT” gets five stars.

This week I’ll review “American Assassin” for WIMZ.com.

I’ll also review one of the following for this webpage:

All I See is You—

Mother!—

Listen to my podcast The Fractured Frame where each week a couple of friends and me talk about movies. It’s available everywhere you get podcasts and on WIMZ.com. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.