Review Catch-Up: IT Chapter 2 (2019)

*Caution! There will be some spoilers within this review*

Written by Gary Dauberman and directed by Andy Muschietti, “IT Chapter 2” is the sequel to the 2017 horror hit “IT”. In the second half of this most recent adaption of Stephen King’s monolith of a book, The Losers club returns to Derry twenty-seven years after their initial bout with Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) the dancing clown. After a particularly gruesome murder with a tinge of the supernatural, Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) starts calling up his old friends to summon them home to finish the deed and kill the clown for good. The Losers are older now, and most of them ended up fairly successful in their careers. Bill (James McAvoy) is a horror author helping to adapt one of his books into a film when he gets the call to return to Derry. Beverly (Jessica Chastain) may have an abusive husband, but she also runs a successful fashion line. Richie (Bill Hader) wanders out a of a backstage to lose his lunch after hearing from Mike, after which he heads onstage to profusely ‘bomb‘ his comedy set. Meanwhile, Ben’s (Jay Ryan) in the middle of a meeting on a new building’s blueprints, he’s the head architect of the project. Eddie (James Ransone), who’s now, aptly, a risk assessment manager, gets into a car crash after hearing Mike’s message. The only loser to not return to Derry, is also the one who’s death is most impactful in the pages of the book version of “IT”, Stanley (Andy Bean). Too horrified by his past encounter with Pennywise, Stanley kills himself in the tub, sprawling the word “IT” in his blood on the tiled walls. In the book, the two halves of the story are meshed together in a circular tale that, wisely, slowly ramps up the tension and horror by hiding it’s secrets in the momentum of both story’s third acts which both happen alongside each other. This allows the adults’ memory loss to feel “remembered” in real time. This also allows Stanley’s death to conjure a more abject fear of IT because we don’t fully know why he was so traumatized to begin with. Imagination breeds a fear of the unknown, and King knew that.

So, the structure of the film is such that the Losers all congregate at a Chinese restaurant as they begin to remember their childhood and why it was so important to come back, to keep their pact intact. In the book, this search for meaning and realization of purpose is a huge portion of the adults’ stories and when it’s meshed in-between the escalating tension of Pennywise’s attacks on them both in the present and the past, you get a more nuanced ebb and flow than what separate adaptions of each era of the story can do alone. Which is why I understand the attempt at recreating the “forgotten memories” aspect of reshooting the kids’ scenes like the fort that Ben built, eluding to his skill in quiet observation evolving into the mind of an architect later on. Essentially the film is organized around the losers meeting in a group and then splitting up so that each character has a personal journey in which they must find themselves and an object, or artifact, from their childhood that held meaning to them personally. We get bits of backstory and exposition from Mike and several scenes to trigger a flood of memories as they remember more crucial information about themselves and their past.

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This film, as entertaining as it was, is definitely a mixed bag at times when concerned with film structure. However, this is similar to the quality of the book. The book has a LOT more backstory on Derry and it’s history that slowly hints at Derry being a place dripping in hatred, racism, and a general lack of morality. Things may seem fine at the surface level, but once you start digging, one finds there to be a litany of malice that has soaked into the dirt upon which Derry was built. The book seems to point to people being the ruinous creatures that true horror emanates from, Pennywise is simply a cosmic predator of sorts, one that has found the perfect hunting ground for an eternal vulture that feeds on fear. The cast and crew make a considerable effort to take what worked from the first film and double down on those traits. Which is why the film works so well given the stumbles that it does have sprinkled throughout. It can feel chaotic, uneven, and as if you’re moving from set-piece to set-piece- structured more like a theme park or funhouse than a story at times, but it’s crafted with such genuine performances and fine-tuned pacing that it never feels boring. It never feels truly ‘scary’ or unsettling either though. The film is far funnier than I had expected, Bill Hader and James Ransone do a lot of the heavy lifting in the levity department and it works to great effect!

Other than some structural critiques and some changes from page to screen (some better than the book, others not as much), “IT Chapter 2” was mostly a success and I personally had a good time with the film. The only big disappointment for me was the end sequence, and I get it, it can be hard to visualize scenes from a book that weigh so heavily on the power of imagination that this wild one was bound to be a disappointment in most adaptions. However, that being said, I wish the filmmakers had gone for the gold and went with the book’s trippy cosmic-horror ending with Bill’s consciousness transcending the universe, then deliberating with the giant space turtle, and diving into Pennywise’s spidery abdomen and swimming through his gooey innards to crush his heart from the inside. Now that’s metal.

Final Score: 7 Losers and 1 Killer Clown from Space!


Review: IT (Chapter 1, 2017)

*There are mild spoilers involved in this review, but nothing that would drastically take away from the joy/horror of this new film. Enter at your own risk and enjoy!*

Written by Chase Palmer, Cary Joji Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman and directed by Andy Muschietti “IT” is the second live-action adaption of the infamous novel written by Stephen King. Things are not well in the town of Derry, Maine. Things are not well at all. Luckily, their misfortune is our bounty as this adaption for the new millennium has been crafted with great care for the source material. For the uninitiated, “IT” is about seven misfit children in the town of Derry that all separately experience the fear of being hunted by a demonic presence that takes the form of a clown and calls itself ‘Pennywise, the Dancing Clown’. Eventually they all stumble into each others’ path and come to realize that they have all been encountering the same terrifying thing. Using the power of… the library (If that doesn’t make you feel old, nothing will), they come to know that It resurfaces every 27 years (or so) to feast on the children of the town by tricking them into getting all too close before opening it’s otherworldly maw.

King’s titanic novel, nearly 1,200 pages, goes into great detail about the haunting of Derry and the workings of the malevolent shape-shifter Pennywise. However, it also dives deep into the everyday lives and histories of all of the seven main characters, especially what each one is afraid of, and why. In this way Pennywise embodies a horrific sort of pairing between the Joker and Batman as he cleverly uses each character’s main fear to his advantage. There are some major differences between the book and the film, but the spirit of the novel is fully embraced here, trusting mood and the feel of a scene or an image over the exact logic of it all. Which, I believe, is one of the larger aspects as to why the film is as effective as it is. The remainder of the weight of the story rests on the shoulders of the actors, and they carried it with great skill.

First we might as well cover the main entity itself, Bill Skarsgard’s performance as Pennywise. After the memorable role of Tim Curry’s Pennywise from the 1990’s mini-series, Skarsgard had to make this version a clown of his own accord. By the way, if you remember that series with fondness, it’s a memory shaded by rose colored glasses. Curry was most definitely the only really good part about the whole thing, give it a watch for nostalgia or comical reasons-and remember that time can be cruel. Back to the modern era though-Skarsgard is a horrifying joy as the killer clown. He’s a more brutal foe than Curry’s, but distinctly different in his approach. Skarsgard’s Pennywise lures children in with smells and sounds, at least with the iconic Georgie sequence. Here he drops the more mainstream monster foes of the book and miniseries (The Wolfman, creature from the black lagoon etc.) and directly taps into their psychological fears. He mimics a dying animal on a meat hook for farmhand Mike Hanlon, turns into an infectious leper for Eddie Kaspbrak who’s mother has induced a fear of the biological in him, and for Bill Denbrough the monster takes the form of Georgie- Bill’s dead little brother and previous victim of Pennywise. Skarsgard excels in taking the character and making him into his own brilliant version of everyone’s nightmares. The real jewel of this film however is the Losers Club.

While all seven of the kids do a remarkable effort in bringing the characters to life, you can only do so much in a roughly two hour film with that many perspectives. The standouts in this film are Finn Wolfhard as Richie ‘trashmouth’ Tozier, Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh, Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben Hanscom, and Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie Kaspbrak. Again, not to dismiss the rest of the Losers Club as they all did an impeccable job for such young actors, these four simply won me over more so than the rest. Finn Wolfhard, in particular, was a real treat as he completely owned the motormouth tendencies of Richie- and he was far funnier than expected. Sophia Lillis did a standout job as the bravest of the losers, pairing real compassion with courage, I would not be surprised to see her star in increasingly demanding roles in the future as she can act while maintaining truth in her performance. Jeremy Ray Taylor put forth a solid effort as the heart of the group and really landed those ‘New Kids on the Block’ jokes. Jack Dylan Grazer was also a real scene-stealer with his risk averse nature playing well as comedic relief.

Now that the film has hit wide-release and smashed previous horror box office opening records we can rest assured that we will indeed receive the second chapter when the Losers return to Derry as Adults to once again confront the evil that is Pennywise. Personally I can’t wait for the sequel and will revel in the assured weekly casting rumors for the months to come. This was a fine adaption of a Stephen King classic and a huge financial success, hopefully we’ll get more genre films like this in the future.

Final Score: Seven kids, one clown, and a mythical turtle