Film review: “IT: CHAPTER 2”, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Chapter 1 of the big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s It – the story of a gang of bullied teen nerds who battle the evil clown Pennywise in the town of Derry – was hailed by fan’s of King’s novel and was universally seen as a vast improvement on the clunky 1990 mini-series. While not terrifying, it had some effective scares, was stylishly constructed, was well-paced and featured memorable performances from a fine young cast. Chapter 2, which stars James McEvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa and Bill Skarsgård is at times inventive, occasionally tense and creepy but it’s greater reliance on sledgehammer scares and horror clichés gives it less bite than its predecessor.

Set in 2016, 27 years after the events of first film, Chapter 2 sees the various members of the losers gang having grown into middle-aged, middle class professionals who never speak to each other and who, with one exception, have escaped Derry. Their memories of the traumatic confrontation with Pennywise have almost completely vanished as they’ve rebuilt their fractured lives. A terrible incident in their home town, however, reveals that Pennywise hasn’t been vanquished and is still terrorising the town. Reuniting, the gang reluctantly return to Derry with the intention of finishing the evil clown beast but sudden appearances by the bloodthirsty creature and traumatic memories of childhood bullying and abuse threaten to thwart their quest.

Making fresh and exciting a near three-hour sequel, that covers much of the same ground as the first film, is a tricky task. In his attempts to do so, Director Andy Muschietti seems to be trying a little too hard. He over-amps the horror scenes with skull pounding noise and bombast, pummelling the audience with relentless shouting and an ear-splitting, hyper-dramatic soundtrack. The film works best when Muschietti allows the film a more subtle touch and the most unnerving moments involve sinister slow burn-scenes of a ravenous Pennywise creepily seducing his next human dinner. The most individually shocking sequences, however, don’t involve Pennywise but homophobic and family violence – oddly the film doesn’t return to these incidents.

One of the first film’s best features was the young bmx-riding teen nerds’ Spielberg/ Stranger Things-style comradery. With the gang now grown-up, much of that appeal has been lost and the best sequences are when they flash back to the early years. Chapter 1 also effectively intertwined supernatural events with the youngster’s anxieties and their attempts to confront fear, trauma and personal demons. Part 2 still pursues these themes but with each episodic Pennywise attack it starts to feel a little stale and repetitive.

Muschietti and cinematographer Checco Varese (who has replaced Chapter 1’s Chung-hoon Chung) have crafted some impressive visuals with clever use of different colour schemes and filmic styles but on a technical level this film is not always convincing. Whether it was a misguided homage to the cheesiness of the 1980’s or a reference to horror characters of which I am unaware, some of the Pennywise incarnations look really silly like something we’d see in a carnival ghost train.  Also, there are far too many scenes of a growling, toothy Pennywise seemingly blasting victims with his bad breath.

The film also contains some strangely illogical sequences (even considering this is a supernatural horror film) including one in which the gang, under attack from Pennywise, smash up a Chinese restaurant yet the staff, despite seeing them do this are remarkably cool about it.  Also, the film makes awkward and irritating transitions between violent horror and smug quirky humour.

After a genre shaking first instalment this finale to the story of Pennywise and Losers Gang is a little pedestrian.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Horror.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Andy Muschietti.

Release date: 4th Sep 2019.

Running time: 170 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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