There’s really no reason why this shouldn’t work, right? Granted, adapting such a lengthy book with such hard R material must have been a minor nightmare to get made. It’s no mistake the reboot had been trying to get off the ground since 2009. Minor miracles are part of getting any production to the screen but that they assembled such a talented group of actors and crew members, including cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon (Park Chan-wook’s go-to DP) for part one, is something worth commending. The on-camera talent is not the problem here and yes, you’ve heard correct that Bill Hader as adult Richie Tozer is just terrific here. Accolades should also be tossed onto James Ransone, who gets to bounce off Hader as adult Eddie Kasbrak. All the actors are great and manage to play well together in spite of some truly terrible dramatic coverage. It’s here where the second half of this story sinks when it should soar. Because for a nearly three hour movie that is supposedly based around characters rediscovering their own history, it’s shockingly void of any actual character direction.
Hardly resembling more than an R-rated Stranger Things, It Chapter Two capitalizes on some incredible production design, great performances and having no idea how to make scenes matter once they’ve ended. Their reintroductions and reunion scenes are hacked to bits by either lack of coverage or lack of understanding in what those characters need. We get glimpses into the characters new lives but none of the interior work necessary to make them feel like anything more than “where are they now?” The restaurant reunion scene should function as a warm welcome back to audiences, instead edited together with a hodgepodge assembly of footage and saccharine music over it. Because this is a film where every note in post-production seemed to be, “make it bigger” regardless of lack of said bigness in the actual on-camera production.
It Chapter Two‘s shortcomings can be found in its approach to horror. Just incessant noise, loud banging and barging with blood-drenched walls. It is a film experience built by set pieces without a sense of character or place. Derry is a non-entity here so the instances of abuse, homophobia, racism are isolated to single scenes instead of the overall narrative purpose of the story.
The death of Stan by suicide here is particularly repulsive and sadly emblematic of the decisions to change the narrative without rhyme or reason. Richie jokingly calling Stan “weak” (in a scene that I’m not sure is played for comedy or drama), is ultimately rebuked by the end of the film because, ah, you see, he was actually strong and heroic in his decision to kill himself for his friends to unite against Pennywise. It’s a disgusting moral statement that is neither backed by any storytelling and a shameful attempt at making a tragedy more palatable for wide audiences. It is a fictional tale but It doesn’t just dabble in elements of human trauma and abuse, it’s the reason for the story existing. Since the first film ultimately decided to strip the subtextual elements for a fun-house horror focus (which I think it actually generally succeeded at), the attempts to retrofit the *themes* of the story never coalesce into anything other than “well it happened in the book kinda!”
Opening on the murder of Adrian Melon, brutal homophobic assault and all, is something I don’t think this film needed. It’s exploitative and too cruel for a film that cannot handle anything more than referential sequences to far better films. The beating is ugly and splatter happy, far too misguided given this two-parter’s pedigree of fun-house. So as a weighty opening, it utterly fails because it’s just a violent moment followed up by an even more violent return of Pennywise.
The whole idea behind Pennywise and the town of Derry is that the two are interconnected. Derry isn’t just haunted, it’s cursed by a presence of evil that people wouldn’t think twice about. The lack of focus on adults in the first film works well enough because of the coming-of-age narrative and the idea that people turn a blind eye to abuse. It’s normalized violence the kids overcome together as adults. But Derry is a non-entity in this film. There’s nothing truly beneath the rotting surface of Derry. Rather, it’s isolated to a single household that crumbles. I’m not sure there are even more than a handful of instances of the Losers interacting with people on the streets of their childhood residences. Nothing that isn’t tied to Pennywise, at the very least. The violence and evil that resides are separate entities when one should be driving the other. It’s a David Lynchian approach to the sick underbelly of the American suburbs; tragically true violence beset upon people who don’t always make it out alive. The suicide of Stanley Uris is also a story element that suffers heavily from this. It’s no longer about any horror of the past but a horrible attempt at course-correcting self-martyrdom. Depiction does not mean endorsement by any means but this rewriting of the Stanley character will forever disappoint me. And no, re-enacting the spider-head sequence from The Thing doesn’t make it any better either.
What the hell were those references to other horror movies? “Here’s Johnny!” makes an appearance, because of course. But the decision to make Stanley’s head go full The Thing doesn’t actually add anything to the film. Driving further down the rabbit hole of baffling decisions, It doesn’t make certain things clear about the antagonistic relationship between It and the Losers. I like the idea of the nebulous creature scaring people to near-death, only to fatten them up like Thanksgiving turkey’s before devouring them. Again, the subtext of everyday horrors allowing an all-encompassing evil to surface. If only there were some way to unite those elements better here.
I understand the decision to split the film’s between kids and adults but in hindsight? It was probably a misstep. The ebbs and flows of the interlacing narrative are intrinsic to the overall experience of people facing what they thought they had overcome. When you spend an entire film with only one version of the characters, you shouldn’t then decide to split time between the two versions. I’m not strictly talking about how it works as an adaptation either. By interjecting a secret narrative “Oh, we couldn’t remember these things because Pennywise” might have read great on the page, and utilizing the superbly talented younger cast must have made the creative team ecstatic, but watching an entire hour of footage that rinse-and-repeats the same horror beats for the same results is just a waste of time and talent. There’s a clear decision to separate the sequences on their nostalgic treasure hunt (a great premise, imo) but there are six scenes that all play out like variations of:
- Place and/or scene the Loser forgot
- The place and/or setting is actually creepy and representative of what haunts them.
- Scary loud noises and wobbly/shaky monster effects before Pennywise taunts them.
SIX SCENES. SIX. Wouldn’t it have worked better to cut between the Losers on their totem hunt? They all go through the same beat. Just use the rising tension, remind the audience how they literally grew up sharing their trauma and how they’re always going to be stronger together even if they lose on their own. It’s literally right there, only six times and for an hour. It wouldn’t have saved the film but it would have stopped it from dropping dead in its tracks.
And yet, I found myself constantly reminded for the opening and closing acts of why I love this story. Truthfully, flaws and all, I consider Stephen King’s It one of the great American novels. It’s not just a relevant story about a nation’s dark underbelly, a past others aren’t willing to confront as a whole, with generations suffering consequences because of blind-eyes. It is a tragedy about the people left behind by that pain and sorrow, yes. It is also a reminder that empathy is more powerful than darkness. That people are stronger together and, while never easy, overcoming the horrors of the past can allow people to live a brighter future. It Chapter Two should know. It has characters say they’re stronger together a bunch of times after it’s already been made clear another prior bunch of times. Even in this most bastardized form It taps into those fleeting moments of childhood happiness, where the world seemed so much simpler. Those tender moments between the Losers riding bikes, the sharing of a hammock, an unrequited love. And though it knows these connections, it doesn’t really understand them. Derry isn’t a people, a place, or even something to be overcome here. Derry is the empty streets, a carnival fun-house, a dusty library. There’s a great version of this story waiting to be told in live-action, one that fills the people and places with texture and history. I’m looking forward to the day someone gets to make it.