It Chapter Two

Two years ago, the trailer for “It” built enough anticipation to make a slightly above average horror film, into a monster hit. That original trailer showed us next to nothing, other than the scene that introduces us to Pennywise the clown, in the gutter, tempting little Georgie. When the rest of the film showed up, it could not live up to that terrifying and suspenseful three minutes. They certainly tried with some clever effects and good performances from the young cast. Fans of the book knew there was more coming and naturally Chapter Two was a forgone conclusion.

The pattern repeats itself here. The first film gives us the promise of something special, and we waited two years for it. What we got was pretty average and not nearly as scary as that original trailer for the first film. The trailers for this movie also gave away too many of the creepy moments that would work better as a surprise.

I will say that the opening of the film works very well. A brutal confrontation with small town bigots actually makes us wish for Pennywise to show up and dispatch these a**holes as soon as possible, but first we are reminded about how evil the clown is, and that his return under any circumstances would not be desirable. After a few chilling images that suggest things have started up again, we get a basic quest film story. First the heroes must gather, most reluctantly. Then each of them has to complete a quest individually, in order to proceed to battle, and then finally they all have to come together and work as a team. If you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it a thousand times.

Probably because the book was so dense, there is some exposition that has to be rushed. It sure seems awkward when one character basically roofies another with psychedelic activated natural juices to get him to share his visions. It was also unclear why, after all the losers have gathered and been subjected to a psychic attack from Pennywise, that they still need to be convinced. The idea that their memories have faded after leaving town is an interesting one but not very well explored. Since the film ends up being the better part of three hours anyway, maybe trim the bloated visual effects at the end, and build and solve this mystery at the beginning.

The individual quests are reasonably entertaining, but there is an element of repetitiveness to them. After the first jump scare with a truly disturbing visual effect, the subsequent experience are a series of diminishing returns that rob the story of any drive and frequently take us down a path of confusion that is never really developed or needed. Jessica Chastain as the grown version ofthe lone girl in the first film is fine.  Bev’s trip down memory lane was the standout in this set of moments, but it was also the one that was featured in the original teaser trailer so that the only surprize is the last minute creature effect that gives us a jump scare. Maybe I’m a little jaded having watched two other horror films the day before, but I had none of the anticipation of dread that filled the first film.

There is a running joke about how Bill played by James McAvoy, as a grown man who is now an author of thrillers, is not very good at creating endings for his story. We get that joke at least three times, including a delivery of the punchline by the actual author of this story. I suppose the point of this was to prepare us for the let down of an ending we get here. The best moments of emotional satisfaction in the relationships between the characters, get drowned out by an overblown CGI sequence which features the cast chanting a message that feels pretty hollow. It also goes on, and on. Some many things that had to be condensed, were reduced to give us more of this, the least interesting and frightening part of the film. The coda has some nice moments, Bill Hader steals most of the movie and there is a clever bookend that ties in to the introduction, but the voice over material is overwrought and goes on far too long as well.

“It Chapter Two” is a disappointment from a horror perspective but it is visually inventive and there are a few jump scares that will probably satisfy fans. I really wanted to like it better. Unfortunately, that was true of the original film as well. The adult casting of the kids from the original is solid. Those kids are also back in a series of flashback points that elaborate on the end of the first film and fill in some narrative spots for this story.

It

I have seen a building enthusiasm for this film since the first trailer appeared. It has a startling look in the most famous scene from the story, and it is enough to get buzz going for the film. A few weeks ago, as I was watching another Warner Brothers film, they played a five minute sequence from it as a promo for the movie. That short segment was terrifying and amped me up for this movie in a way that I was having a hard time believing. I like some Stephen King properties but I have never anticipated them like a Star Wars film, but something here got under my skin. I am writing this a couple of days late because I have been traveling. We saw the film in one of the Thursday night early screenings and it was packed. This movie is clearly going to be huge.

All that said, I may be bursting a few floating red balloons with this next statement. “It” is not as frightening as you hope it will be, but it is better put together and acted than you have any right to hope. Not having read the book or seen the mini-series that was made from it, I have no reference for how the story is supposed to play out but there are a couple of things that are obvious right away. This movie is really a coming of age story with some fantastic elements and those are designed to scare us almost as much as the daily horrors that are part of growing up. All of the kids in the story are outsiders who have been labeled as losers. Each one is a stereotype that we have seen in other movies before. The sensitive nominal lead is a kid who is struggling with the loss of a beloved sibling. There is a chubby kid with a heart of gold and the soul of a poet who will be overlooked as a romantic interest in spite of being bright and charming. We have a needy Mama’s boy who is a little to cowardly to be that shallow and will reveal himself as more than he appears before it is all through. The four other kids include a girl with a secret, the one Jewish kid in town, and a geek with a severe case of coulrophobia and let’s not forget the one black kid in the neighborhood as well.

 

This version of the story begins in the eighties. I understand originally it was a fifties setting so that the adult part of the story would be contemporary for when the book and TV movie came out. The update does a couple of things,. First it will allow the adult story that is going to follow this chapter of the saga to take place in our times. More importantly, it sets the kids story in a period where nostalgia runs deep for modern film audiences. One look at this group of kids and there will be visions of “The Goonies” running through the minds of Gen-Xers and millennials. There is even a sly reference to the John Hughes films that so absorb the geek film audience of these times. All of this is managed with some splendid child performances by the young cast. Finn Wolfhard plays Richie, the geek with a filthy mouth. It is certainly no accident that the thing he is known for is the Streaming series “Stranger Things”, a show that wallows in the same sort of 80s nostalgia.Jaeden Liebeher is Bill, the central character who has guilt issues that mimic King’s character Gordie LaChance from “Stand By Me”. He is a solid child actor, I have yet to catch up with his performance in “Midnight Special” but he was memorable in “St. Vincent” a film I can easily recommend.   Sophia Lillis is the right combination of tough girl and sensitive soul. Her character’s story is probably the darkest of the kids and she plays it as a delicate balance of fear and openess. The performer who really steals the movie for me was Jeremy Ray Taylor, who plays Ben, the new kid who also happens to be the chubby kid. His struggle to talk to a girls, walk his bike and hold onto a school project at the same time is a perfect rendition of a kid at that age. His character has been well written but he was also nicely cast and the impact on the audience i a couple of spots shows that he may have generate the most empathy of anyone in the story.

 

The elephant in the room is Bill Skarsgård, the actor who portrays Pennywise the dancing clown. We get hints of the history of this character but nothing more than musings. Whether he is a real monster or a creation of the id of all these characters, Pennywise will do for clowns what Clark Gable did to undershirts in “It Happened One Night”. Along with John Wayne Gacy, Pennywise does more to justify fear of clowns than anything else I can think of. Skarsgård has a distinctive lilt to his voice in this film. At times he sounds almost like a benign entertainer, but one look at those eyes and that deceptive smile and kids will run. The most frightening part of the film happens at the beginning of the film when cute as a button Jackson Robert Scott playing little brother Georgie, meets Pennywise at the storm drain. All the other horror moments in the film seem conventional in comparison to the exchange of dialogue and the slow paced bad choice that Georgie makes. The plaintive expression on the clowns face belies the evil that resides there and the quirky voice pattern makes us doubt that there is any danger at all. The crawling of your skin however should be enough to make you run in the opposite direction.

 

Like most horror films, every few minutes the audience is provided a jump scare or a sequence of building tension with a visual hook to it. None of these moments contains the same gut level terror in that opening moment. There is one scene featuring an old slide projector that comes close but too much has been revealed in the trailers to make it work as well as it should. At the climax, there is a little more of Pennywise and his dialogue than is advisable. The more tangible the character is, the less frightening he seems. As I said earlier, this is more of a coming of age film than a fright fest. The confrontation at the end makes this feel more like an action film and less supernatural, in spite of all the supernatural elements.  I still quite admire the film, it’s just that it is less of what I was hoping for and more conventional than I wanted. Still it is a quality picture and if clowns creep you out to begin with than maybe “It” will succeed in giving you the nightmares that I somehow missed out on.