Friday, September 6, 2019

A Reel Review - IT: CHAPTER TWO

The decision to break up the film adaptation of Stephen King’s famed horror novel IT into two movies was a logical one. After all, King’s novel is over 1100 pages long, covering over 30 years of story with even more backstory and various character plotlines. In 2017, IT: CHAPTER ONE was a well-received, well-executed story of a group of pre-teens battling the fear-mongering supernatural killer clown…which makes the expectations high for the grand finale in CHAPTER TWO. 
Twenty-seven years after the events of the first film, the Losers Club (James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Jay Ryan, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ransone, Andy Bean), are summoned to their old hometown of Derry to face the ancient monster Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), who has risen again to feast on the innocent. 
The business of CHAPTER TWO concerns the now-adult versions of the Losers Club battling Pennywise once and for all. It’s a battle not done with weapons or glow-sticks, but with all of them facing their fears. There’s a lot of metaphor going on, as the group has to individually come to grips with their past; often represented in items, places, and memories. Director Andy Muschietti has a lot of themes at work; childhood trauma, unrequited love, deep secrets, and letting go of childhood fancy. There’s plenty going on, with most of the themes casually explored and others focused on for the duration. 
And for most of that duration, CHAPTER TWO has the un-avoidable burden of a story flaw. The Losers return to Derry with little or no memory of the events of the first film, and they spend most of this story re-capturing those lost memories. Since we the audience already knows what happened, we’re basically spending the film waiting for the characters to catch-up. Where the first film has a lot of mystery to uncover, CHAPTER TWO loses that sense of discovery, and it’s an issue as it sucks the tension out of the story. 
But as a horror movie, CHAPTER TWO really works. The scares are well-timed and relentless, creative and stunning to look at. The fears of the Losers come in many physical forms; from walking spider-heads  to deformed insects with human baby-heads…it’s grotesque and very effective. The individual challenges the Losers have to face are well written and executed, and the appearances of Pennywise (when he does appear in clown form, more on that in a bit), are a thrill. 
Visual effects range from excellent to just-okay. Some of the creatures are just CGI blobs, while others look great. How they are used is the real selling point, as a sequence involving a creepy old lady is possibly the first time that CGI horror really (and finally) works. The child actors return to reprise their roles, and are digitally de-aged to match their ages and appearances from CHAPTER ONE. The effect only works to an extent, with most of their faces looking cartoonish. 
Acting is excellent with James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, and Bill Hader carrying most of the workload and carrying it very well. The real star of the movie is in the casting of the adult Losers, as they all match their childhood counterparts perfectly. Bill Skarsgard is once again terrifying as Pennywise, but he unfortunately takes a backseat too often in favor of CGI monster-versions of the clown. 
The finale is a headache-inducing CGI shitfight, but it does end in a satisfying manner that loops back to CHAPTER ONE and may provide some tears. With so much going on, the film takes a long time to wrap up, and the hefty 160-minute running-time can really be felt. Despite all that is packed in the film, a lot of questions remain unanswered such as Pennywise’s origin or purpose, with no real hints to even leave it up to speculation or discussion. But in the end, CHAPTER TWO is worthwhile horror flick with enough scares and emotional resonance to earn a pass despite a few stumbles. 

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