IT - Chapter Two (2019)
Starring: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Bill Skarsgård
Screenplay by: Gary Dauberman
Based on: It by Stephen King
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
THE THREE P’S:
It’s been 27 years since The Losers Club sent Pennywise the Clown back underground into hibernation. (If you don’t know what any of these words mean, you shouldn’t be reading this)
But at long last, in 2016, a gay man is ripped to pieces and his boyfriend says a clown did it. Local librarian and former (some might say ‘current’) loser Mike Hanlon knows what this bizarre sighting means. Pennywise is back. So he calls upon his disbanded group to… reassemble, I guess, and hopefully destroy the murderous creature once and for all. Because Mike is the man. Mike is the man, and he has a plan. He has a plan because he is the man your man can smell like. He’s on a horse.
Derry may not have changed, but The Losers have
There’s a lot to like about this movie. It pays diligent homage to the first in the series, however nostalgic it may seem, and the choice to blend a lot of new scenes with the characters in the eighties helps to meld adult and child actors together.
The casting for this film is next level. It’s Hollywood’s craziest lookalike ensemble ever. Andy Bean is Wyatt Oleff, who plays Stanley. Jay Ryan does somehow resemble Jeremy Ray Taylor (‘You can call me Jay, and you can call me Ray’), and the two play Ben Hanscom, fit and fat. Even James McAvoy has a few moments where he looks like Jaeden Lieberher. But it’s James Ransone’s face-off with Jack Dylan Grazer that takes the cake and enters strange and baffling territories bordering on possible deepfake. Incredible in so many ways, they share the embodiment of Eddie Kaspbrak impeccably. Do they have a casting category at the Academy Awards? Maybe this crop of pod-people will help ignite a talk about it.
“Take my gay hand!”
Bill Skarsgård is the only one unchanged, and he is just as unsettling in his role as Pennywise the Clown. It was great to see him out of make-up (in more make-up, aged and balding), even if it was for just a moment. His wonky-eyed expressions, particularly in his final moments, are animalistic and genuine nightmare-fuel.
The rest of the acting is good in this, too. I give major props to Bill Hader for knocking it out of the park with this one — he has the comedy routine down-pat, but he also goes very deep with his character of Richie (previously portrayed by a real-life praying mantis, Finn Wolfhard). I couldn’t give two tosses about Richie in the first one — he was a loud-mouth with the personality of your uncle’s pet parrot. Here, his unexpected romance backstory took me by surprise. I didn’t see it coming at all and it was genuinely heartbreaking. So much so, I was actually very close to crying during the credits — which is a big no-no for me, so I’m impressed. This romance, which I’ll remain tight-lipped about, comes full circle from the horrific opening scene. It adds a greater depth to the story, and from Stephen King’s usually formulaic small-town perceptions.
Bill Hader gives a surprisingly profound performance that nearly reduced me to tears
A breath of fresh air, this isn’t just a horror film, it’s a beautiful story of human love and how from the moment we’re born, we are fighting through the elements to survive.
There’s a scene near the end where Beverly is thrust back into the school bathroom where we first met her, and the monstrous people from her past try to fight their way into her stall. From one perspective, it’s simply Pennywise messing with her, trying to incite fear in order for him to feed off her. But from another perspective, it’s the trappings of her own mind, and if she doesn’t look for the light (that burns in January) she may very well drown. It’s a reminder that a lot of people have seen the light in her and tried to snuff it out.
A scene so wrought with tension and horror may seem overdramatic to some, but it’s a psychological assessment of how tumultuous Beverly Marsh’s upbringing was. In many ways, she is still stuck in that same bathroom twenty-seven years later.
No Beverly, you may not use my bathroom.
When you think about it, Pennywise was never really the villain. He was merely a host to the awfulness inside each and every one of us, almost like a hall of mirrors, reflecting the ugliness it sees in the humans of Derry. The Losers’ own fears and insecurities kept It alive and growing larger and larger.
I won’t say any more on this subject for fear of spoilers, but the ending of the film is deeply emotional. It really is one of the most unexpectedly melancholy ends to a King movie I’ve ever seen. It’s not even about the obvious themes of death and guilt, it’s about friendship and love, hope and overcoming despair. Not forgetting your past, but appreciating it for shaping you, and remembering those who helped you along the way.
Besides from the textbook psychoanalysis, the one other fantastic element to Chapter Two was the musical score by Benjamin Wallfisch. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t earn an Oscar nomination next year. With a lot of complicated orchestrations and themes, it really reminds me of what a lost art it has become, and perhaps is one of the reasons why films of the past decade have lacked a great deal in emotion.
Genius casting. How can two people this different look so similar!?
The directing and cinematography, whilst incredible in the first instalment, are very forgettable in Chapter Two. There is nothing that particularly stood out for me, with the exception of a cool fade-out/fade-in with Eddie about halfway through the film.
As I mentioned before, the adult cast is uncanny. However, Bill Hader does not look a thing like Finn Wolfhard. Their eyes aren’t even close to being the same colour. I see they’ve put relatively brown contacts on Hader, but it’s clearly not the same guy.
The other big fault lies in the woeful miscasting of one Jessica Chastain. Wow. Look, she is a wonderful actress with a lot of outstanding work under her belt, but she shares nothing in common with her young Beverly counterpart, Sophia Lillis. I have noticed that a lot of people in society seem to suffer from an unfortunate ailment called ‘ginger blindness’, where all red-headed women look exactly the same. That’s why Isla Fisher gets mistaken for Amy Adams, despite not sharing any similarities at all. If Noni Hazlehurst herself dyed her hair a luminous red tomorrow, people would swear on their lives she was Christina Hendricks. So yes, Chastain has red hair like Sophia Lillis. Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that kick-you-in-the-crotch, spit-on-your-neck fantastic? Not really, because you need more than that. In reality, Sophia Lillis has a deeper voice than Chastain, who goes for a more timid Marilyn Monroe breathiness. And her nose is rounder, squidgier like Elizabeth Montgomery’s. Not flat and long like Chastain’s. Their eyes aren’t even remotely similar. Where Lillis has these beautiful, soulful big blue eyes that make me think of Rapunzel in Tangled, Chastain has smaller eyes, masked almost entirely by very long eyelashes and a longer shaped lid. And aren’t her eyes green? Not to mention — they just don’t look alike! It boggles the mind, and unfortunately it felt like Beverly was missing for most of the film.
Jayma Mays (left) convincingly portrays an older version of Marcia Cross (right)
Now to the screenplay. The first instalment had that crazy-ass chemistry between the young kids to depend on, but this time you’ve got well-known actors who are playing them, and it does in fact draw you out of the film a little. It reveals the unfinished screenplay beneath, horrifying like a clown with no make-up. Luckily, King’s extensive source material brings something worthy to the table, helping to a degree. A tiny, infinitesimal degree. In the first one where characters are built and their uniqueness is complimented by the writing, here we have them sitting around a table just trying their best to caricature the younger actors whose jobs they’ve taken.
(Then smacking the shit out of alien fortune cookies, which was… you know… a thing. It didn’t really cut it in my opinion. Especially when the waitress seemed okay with their erratic behaviour, and they apparently walked off without the police being involved.)
These scenes are marked unfinished in my opinion, with no point or depth whatsoever. Totally unbalanced. In fact, if we’re gonna talk about balance…
The evidence is there.
The whole movie is essentially a comedy. We have the same problem as the first movie: It’s too dependent on its humour and loveable characters, that the scary stuff plays second fiddle. That’s not how this should be! This is based off one of Stephen King’s scariest novels. So… where’s the horror? Yes, people died. The death of Georgie still haunts Bill as it does in the book. But these are fleeting moments. Bill was once the main character, but here he’s pushed to the side whenever there’s room for more funny buddy routines. Having light-hearted moments in a horror movie is one thing, but when it takes over… Something’s wrong.
So they somehow… went forward in time and brought Jack Dylan Grazer back to play himself… in the future?
And the horror was just not there for me. Besides from a few jump-scares, the only truly disturbing thing happens in the last moments of the final showdown. Let’s just say it reminded me of Voldemort in the ethereal world, but with clown make-up.
Other than that, let’s broach the most troubling and mind-numbingly stupid thing this film has to offer:
What is with the cartoon monsters?
Some of the scenes were straight out of ‘Aaahhh!!! Real Monsters’. In fact, in my previous ‘It’ review I said one of the monstrous faces looked like it had been twisted in Photoshop. The same thing happened again in this one! Plus an “oogey-boogey” cartoon woman jumps out of a doorway with her hair defying gravity and everything, and it’s funny. Hilarious, even. It happens again later on when Eddie is trying to rescue his mother, tied up in a basement (not really a spoiler, don’t worry). The leper man with the giraffe tongue is so cartoonish, I thought we’d gone from a first rate horror to a gimmicky Slender Man rip-off.
All of the CGI scares are dating the film very, very badly. The same way the eighties was known for its over-the-top D-grade horror flicks about Leprechauns and Vampire Hookers. The very stuff Tim Burton parodied in ‘Beetlejuice’ is now becoming the norm in 2019 horror films, taken very seriously by a lot of people, and somehow it’s legitimately scaring them! I feel like Elaine in ‘Seinfeld’ when people start eating candy bars with cutlery.
One of Oliver’s lesser known musical numbers: ‘Glass, Glorious Glass’
One of the worst things is when Pennywise bites into children. The cartoon teeth look like renaissance paintings for the briefest of moments. It ruins the entire impact. Georgie with anglerfish teeth and the overuse of CGI in general absolutely abolishes this film into pure embarrassment for future generations to point and laugh at. It has sadly fallen into “schlock horror” territory with its un-scary, comical bullshit. (Never thought I’d see the day where I’d say that about a Stephen King movie, outside of a restricted 1990’s TV production budget.) The idea of something is much scarier than seeing it in glorified HD, you dense fools! When will you learn!? If they’d cast Pennywise in shadows when he attacked, or had an artsy shot where something obscured his face, etc… it would have been much scarier.
Me next to somebody who enjoyed Midsommar.
Ironically, I watched ‘The Blair Witch Project’ the other day, and the atmosphere in that film is almost suffocating. Because a bit of discretion (and little to no money) went a long way. It’s genuinely frightening. As is Stephen King’s book, ‘It’. The length gives it the time to describe the feelings in the situation. This movie almost felt like a hammy ending to Stranger Things. (Hmmm… Such ironies to point out. I cannot choose.)
And also, what is with kids in films being more mature and responsible than the adults? All the grown-up versions of The Losers’ Club have their weaknesses and put them on full display, and in a way they represent adults in 2019 — man-babies. The two actual children in this, slaughtered horribly by the way, show signs of maturity far beyond that of any adult in Derry. Particularly the wiser-than-words little boy who seems to stalk the group. Looking like a cross between pre-nose-job Sara Gilbert and the younger of the two insufferable kids in Jurassic World, he rides around the town on a skateboard. Because, you know, he’s a kid. But he speaks like an adult and is annoyingly passive and observant. I was glad when It got him. My point is, every child in every film over the last decade is the adult, and every adult they converse with has ‘relatable’ child-like tendencies. It’s driving me crazy. I’m over it. Grr!
Oh and don’t even get me started on grown-up Henry Bowers and his nonsensical crusade. I’ll truncate my problems quickly below:
— What was the point!? As if he could survive that fall down the well and just walk home!
— Why is his dead teenage friend from the first movie the one to break him out!?
— And how did corpsie get a car, fill it with gas, and drive it in the first place!?
— And where did he go!?
— And why did Bowers need a car to get around when he could clearly teleport from second storey windows to the ground floor in mere milliseconds?
Another thing that drove me mental was how weird The Losers as kids looked in their scenes. I think especially Jeremy Ray Taylor, whose face was obviously smoothed over for some reason. He isn’t even the biggest grower out of the young cast. Finn Wolfhard has turned into a young man since filming this, so naturally there’s some wonkiness to his shots, but they really overdid it. I wasn’t joking with the insect remark before — he really does look like a praying mantis in this! They’ve put his face on a nine-year-old’s body, and it’s uncanny valley all the way.
The only person not to have changed much would have to be Sophia Lillis, and with that fact I feel they may have missed out on a great opportunity. I really, really think they should have just stuck with her for older Beverly. She looks much older than seventeen years old. And heck, if late thirties Reese Witherspoon can play a high schooler in ‘Wild’, why can’t Sophia Lillis do vice-versa? Because let’s face it, her acting in the first ‘It’ movie is better than anything Chastain has ever done (oh yes I did), and for a teenager that’s remarkable.
“See? Without the face paint, I’m just a regular man married to another man named Mitchell.”
I thought I’d throw this one in there, even though I haven’t looked it up for verification: The woman who played grown-up Eddie’s wife is the same actress who plays his mother. Because in the book, everybody predicts that Eddie will one day marry his mother, and he does. I loved this in the movie, as at first I thought it was his mother on the phone. Straight after a visit from the original Queer Eyes, of course.
COLONEL’S KERNEL SCORE:
I give this film TWO AND A HALF pops out of FIVE kernels. It didn’t quite do what the first movie did, but the ending gave it that extra half star.
Despite its shortcomings, the second and final chapter in the ‘It’ series ends on a much deeper note than one would expect from this type of fair. Given Stephen King is the master of his genre, it’s a timely reminder of what makes King… well, King.
OH THE IRONY OF SEEING HIM PLAY A CHARACTER COMMENTING ON BAD ENDINGS TO BOOKS, AND THEN FINDING THE ENDING TO ‘IT’ PERFECT.
Anyway, bring on the Director’s Cut, in glorious chronological order. (Without the old lady oogie-boogie moment, please)