Send in the Clowns
After achieving a monster hit with chapter one, Andy Muschietti returns to complete Stephen King’s story, the losers’ club upgraded to adulthood and 2016. Last time around, buoyed by likable child leads and late-eighties nostalgia, we enjoyed the sinister if curiously fear free child death-a-thon, hoping that the conclusion would pull the thread suggested by the first film and show us grown up characters nursing psychological hang ups from their teen skirmish with death; the generational fate of Derry survivors who have grown into abusers, sex offenders and the like.
Unfortunately, Chapter Two establishes that the kids can’t remember their childhood ordeal – some mumbo jumbo about forgetting the further they get from Derry, and consequently when they reassemble there’s little to suggest the past has changed them at all.
Sure, Billy’s a horror writer and Ben doesn’t like claustrophobic interiors, but otherwise, where’s the fallout? Bev may have an abusive husband but that’s surely down to the domestic cycle of abuse repeating itself, rather than any trauma from her clown encounter. It’s all very disappointing; characters who should be psychological basket cases ready to confront their demons and start anew, instead just full-sized renderings of their childhood personas who spend most of the film’s distended running time trying to unearth repressed memories – the movie’s clunky device for splitting up the gang and creating setpiece scares.
The problem with Chapter Two is both structural and ontological. Adults confronting a child-killing monster just isn’t as scary or interesting as children facing the same threat; there’s never the sense the losers are in as much danger as they were before, or indeed that Pennywise the Clown has the same degree of interest in killing them. He’s content to taunt them instead – pull his punches, while saving his murderous appetite for town’s unfortunate tots.
Robbed of this threat, the second half of the story plays like a bland re-telling of the first. But without the aforementioned psychological dimension, it’s just a series of cliched setups pegged to some pseudo-spiritual bullshit about a native American ritual that will vanquish the alien/supernatural foe that’s apparently been a predator in what’s now Maine for, er, millions of years.
Muschietti’s inability to create imaginative horror sequences and real tension was less conspicuous in the first, tighter, more focused film. Chapter Two by comparison is long-winded and has little to offer genre fans beyond tired on-screen tricks like unnatural movement, ear-bleeding sound effects, and – yawn – jump scares. What else could he have done? Perhaps more effectively showcase the characters’ neuroses and trauma, thereby laying the ground for bespoke terror, tailored to each loser. The film skims a stone across the surface of that basic concept, but doesn’t have the wit or the nous to translate it into something original.
IT Chapter Two is a missed opportunity, then – too long and not scary enough by half. A lot of it, including an escaped killer sub-plot, feels redundant and tangential; a movie over stuffed with incident; reels of horror clichés; not nearly developed enough where in the area that counts –characterisation.