IT CHAPTER TWO. When I realized I would have to wait two years between It and It Chapter Two, I was disappointed. The first movie, released in 2017, was tone-perfect in how it portrayed the first half of Stephen King's lengthy novel about childhood friends battling a supernatural clown for the soul of their small Maine village, even if it took some liberties with the book's plot. I wondered if waiting until 2019 to reunite with the Losers Club would dilute some of my enthusiasm. It did not but I now realize that the disappointment I felt at the wait was instructive in preparing for this dismal sequel.
If you're a reader of King's, you know that the most horrifying parts of his work often aren't the haunted cell phones or homicidal cars, but the human cruelty that pads the pages between rattles, groans and screams. In this vein, the movie starts with a daisy chain of trauma: a hate crime, domestic violence and suicide that, while all true to the book, do little to move the plot forward, leave the perpetrators unpunished and the victims underdeveloped. King seems to enjoy drawing contrasts between the ugliest impulses of human nature and real monsters, but, in the hands of director Andrew Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman, these scenes are just the opening blows in the long beating of a horse that's dead within a half hour of the opening credits.
Don't blame the actors. Although none of the ensemble cast was given quite enough to work with in terms of dialogue, they did a great job of seeming like true friends from the time they're reunited over (spoiler) a plate of possessed fortune cookies. Bev (Jessica Chastain), Bill (James McAvoy) and Ben (Jay Ryan) make a believable love triangle, although the chemistry is due almost entirely to Chastain's trademark smolder. One wishes she were given more to do in this movie than sit at a low burn and scream believably, but the source material didn't provide much opportunity for that. (Stephen King's writing of female characters has always been unsatisfying to me.) Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) is almost given too much to do, as narrator, demi-protagonist and Keeper of the Mythos, and he executes everything so well it's doubly frustrating that he was sidelined as protagonist in favor of Achingly Average White Guy McAvoy. That said, in every ensemble cast someone invariably wrecks the curve and in this case it was Bill Hader, playing Richie "Trashmouth" Tozier. Hader is in his element playing a wisecracking coward with a secret in his past. (A secret that was one of Dauberman's liberties that worked.) James Ransome, playing Eddie Kaspbrak, was a little one-note but he made a great foil to Hader. And the alien-faced Swede Bill Skarsgård made a welcome return as Pennywise. He could have let the fiendish makeup and costuming do the heavy lifting for him, but it's truly Skarsgård's voice, undulating between a trill and a croak, that terrifies.
Three hours should have been the right amount of time for this movie, which requires exploration of characters' backstories, their evolving relationship dynamics and the mythos and undoing of Pennywise, but it drags. The mythos is handled quickly using a Magical Native American subplot that should make us all uneasy. The backstories (handled in flashbacks with the welcome return of several of the child actors from the first movie) are great — easily the best part of the film. It is, ironically, the jump scares that make this movie feel so long and awful. Dauberman is a veteran of the modern horror canon, having directed two recent movies about a haunted doll and another about an evil immortal nun. It Chapter Two seems to have borrowed scary tropes from every horror film made in the last 20 years (as well as some mythos from Harry Potter, of all places) and it piles jump scare upon jump scare so relentlessly they become numbing. Many of the scares are gross instead of startling. By the film's third act, I'd stopped murmuring, "Don't go in there" and begun saying, "Oh for heaven's sake, just hurry up and get in the sewer already so we can get this over with." R. 169M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
Linda Stansberry lives in Eureka and writes fiction and nonfiction in her free time. She prefers she/her pronouns. Just before watching this movie she got a traffic ticket, which may have influenced her review. She still suggests you wait until it comes out on DVD.
See showtimes at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards› Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
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