Wednesday, September 11, 2019

It: Chapter Two (2019)

I'm surprised I did not see anyone mention on social media the Peter Bogdanovich cameo in It: Chapter 2, playing (what else) a movie director. There's one other notable cameo and many references to the Stephen King universe. A blockbuster horror film playing it safe in some areas and taking chances in others creates a memorable experience that may or may not have lasting value, the continual stream of scares exhausts at a certain point, but the characters are likable. 

The two It movies can be viewed as a love letter to King's work and 1980s pop culture in general. Chapter Two also drives home the metaphor of the evil clown Pennywise existing as a stand in for past trauma. The best and worst of modern blockbusters are in conflict throughout the three hour sequel: an attractive cast, high production value, and memorable visuals contrasted with an excess of bloated sequences heavy on CGI. 

The first chapter from 2017 worked well upon first viewing, but seemed static and listless at times on re-watch. The best aspect Chapter One was the Losers' Club that drew upon Stand by Me and other 80s standbys such as The Goonies and The Lost BoysChapter Two is also the strongest in that regard, childhood friends coming back together. Each member of the adult cast delivers a decent performances and are given equal screen time. 

The story picks up 27 years after the events of the first film. The Losers' Club have gone their separate ways. Beverly (Jessica Chastain) is a fashion designer ensnared in an abusive relationship with her husband. Bill (James McAvoy) is a writer and Richie (Bill Hader) is a stand up comedian. Ben (Jay Ryan) is an architect, Eddie (James Ransone) remains a hypochondriac and works as a risk assessor. Mike (Isiah Mutafa) remained in Derry as the librarian, writing a secret history of the town.

The opening sequence reveals the evil clown Pennywise is back and terrorizing Derry. Set at a carnival, a common feature of 2019 horror utilized in Us and Stranger Things, the film begins with an assault on a gay couple by a gang of homophobic teens. The indifference of the adult world to violence is a recurring motif in both films. A string of murders follows prompting Mike to call the Losers' Club back together. Now in their late 30s, none of them have any memory of what happened 30 years ago, but once they return to Derry the fog starts to clear.

After a slightly awkward reunion at a Chinese Restaurant they decide Pennywise must be confronted and destroyed. What follows are several scenes in the middle act with each character confronting a trauma from their past. These sequences are hit and miss, sometimes falling into cliche territory. The attacks by Pennywise are psychological, but the jump scares and CGI never pulls off an authentic scare.

The final showdown worked better than I expected, taking the story into more of a fairy tale direction. The production design goes into the realm of fantasy and culminates in a battle of wills. It's not a physical or technological fight and that felt refreshing and in the spirit of the source material (vastly superior to the low rent TV version from 1990). A moving epilogue that will draw comparisons to The Shawshank Redemption ended the film on a nice touch.

A drawback in Chapter Two is the overuse of Pennywise. Bill Skarsgard was frightening enough in the first film, but the character descends into parody here. There's an effective scene with Skarsgard appearing without makeup that did provide some dimension to the mythology of the clown. Tim Curry's performance as Pennywise in the TV Movie played him more as a wisecracking psychopath, here the clown is more in the realm of a classic monster.

I won't complain about the three hour running time, a story on this scale warrants it in the age of the Netflix binge. The cast keeps the film grounded in humanity.

Andy Muschietti directed both films and effectively brought a competent adaptation to the big screen. His style avoided pretension and kept the story moving along, well versed in Spielberg and King in channeling the hope and terror of growing up in America

*** (out of 4)

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