film

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!

film

Review: ‘Crimson Peak’ a beautiful, yet predictable tale

I firmly believe the number one issue with ‘Crimson Peak’ was how it was marketed. Universal chose to sell the film as a horror feature filled with ghastly ghouls and scares aplenty. This however does not do justice to the film’s actual genre, which is more of a gothic-romance mystery with some ghosts involved. In fact the scriptwriters tell us several times, “It’s not a ghost story, more of a story with ghosts in it.” which is far more accurate. To be fair the film is not a bad one by any measure, it is simply not the one I, nor likely many other moviegoers, expected.

This is a tale more Bronte than brutal. Don’t let me fool you though, blood is everywhere in this movie. The scares just aren’t. The movie is more atmospheric and moody than frightening and adrenaline fueled. Edith, Mia Wasikowska, is our heroine in this tale. The story begins as she is given a graven warning from her ghostly deceased mother, “Beware the Crimson Peak!”. From there Edith grows into a young woman with a penchant for the written word trying to sell one of her manuscripts. The film quickly, and wisely, introduces us to the most compelling character in the story, Sir Thomas Sharpe, in a scene stealing performance by Tom Hiddleston (Loki from ‘The Avengers’, if you were unaware). Sharpe is visiting America from England with his piano playing sister Lucille, portrayed by an intense Jessica Chastain. Together they are searching for funding for Sir Thomas’ invention that digs up the red clay from his English estate so that they may take it and use the unusually crimson muck for building material and other such uses. At least, that’s what they tell everyone. The film tries to invoke a level of secrecy into the plot at this point with quick edits and quiet lines of dialogue between the brother and sister that imply greatly sinister proceedings, a sure danger for our Edith later on. That’s just the problem though, while the film builds in intensity, the ending, while disturbing, never quite lives up to what is implied throughout.

I don’t hate this movie, not by a long shot. I am just disappointed by it. There are great things in it however. Tom Hiddleston’s acting is superb throughout, able to communicate sorrow, treachery, sadness, and heart with barely a look. The man can act, and act well. The best thing about the film though has to be production design. Crimson Peak itself might make a top ten list for haunted houses in the future. It feels as old and decrepit as the characters say it is, and the house itself provides the eerie sensation that permeates most of the film. As the manor is slowly sinking into the red clay beneath there is often red goo pulsating out of the cracks and oozing through the floorboards. It is certainly creepy. The sad part about all of this is that that sole factor makes the cgi ghosts that much more troubling. As good as the cgi is at times, it just doesn’t feel as though the ghosts are actually interacting with the world we are supposed to believe they inhabit. The house looks too real for the ghosts. My other issue here is that the script gives away the plot in spades, what the writer might have thought were subtle nods are downright spoilers in my mind. While this might not be true for every viewer, it did not further the experience, but rather detracted from it, in my opinion.

Again, I do appreciate that this movie exists though. It is a wonderful contrast to the other cinematic options that are available. It also doesn’t rely on the male characters for the meat of the story. Yes Sir Sharpe is an important player in the film, but it is the two female leads that are the center focus of the tale. Oh, and Charlie Hunnam is also in the film, and he serves his purpose well, but his part is entirely knowable from the moment you meet him essentially. So, while I respect this film for purely existing, that is not enough to make it a great film. Hopefully this doesn’t mean Guillermo Del Toro’s other passion projects are pushed to the side after this.

Final Score: 7/10