Monday, 9 September 2019

It: Chapter Two (2019) - Movie Review

Following up It: Chapter One was always gonna be a tricky proposition. The most commercially-successful horror film of all time, a retelling that blew most if not all nostalgia for the 1990 mini-series out of the water, and just a brilliantly-constructed piece of cinema; how in the fuck is this meant to measure up to all that? Well, while I would argue that it doesn’t measure up in certain aspects, I would also argue that as a sequel, as a continuation and conclusion to what came before, this got most of the essential stuff damn near perfect.

Starting with the casting, where it feels like the same precision placed on the child actors in Chapter One has been applied here in how fitting these picks are. Jessica Chastain as the grown-up Bev, introduced with her kicking her abusive husband square in the face? Nailed it. James McAvoy as the grown-up Bill, the leader with the biggest personal stake in putting down this sick clown? Nailed it.
Isaiah “look to your man, now back to me” Mustafa as adult Mike, given a beefier presence in the story and introducing the more cosmic edge to the titular monster? Nailed it. James Ransone as the grown-up Eddie, who looks exactly like an older Jack Dylan Grazer? Nailed it. Jay Ryan as the adult Ben… okay, not so much there, but then again, that’s more to do with the writing for his character than anything else.

Bill Hader as Richie? Fucking nailed it to the goddamn wall! I honestly didn’t think much of his casting when it was first announced, especially since Finn Wolfhard pretty much stole the show in the first part with the same character, but seeing it realised, this is serious Best Of The Year material right here. Every moment on-screen, every emotion he has to deliver, every word of dialogue hits a sweet spot that, over time, almost turns him into the leader of the group. Part of that is down to the heft of his character woes, which is saying something considering those around him, but mainly, it’s because he ends up embodying the very soul of this story: Humour in the face of the frightening. He is the manifestation of these films’ entire aesthetic, constantly skirting the line between what’s funny and what’s pants-shitting.

Then again, maybe that finesse shines through even brighter because, more so than the first part, the film as a whole ends up struggling with that dichotomy. While the scares we get can be quite creative, from baby-faced insectoid creatures to the opening heart-stop of a hate crime, the CGI realisation of them is a bit… cartoonish. When a horror flick of this calibre keeps giving me flashbacks to the also wonkily-rendered work on Hellboy, something has gone wrong in post-production. It still manages to give chills where applicable, and thankfully the writing manages to balance scares and giggles much more effectively, but on pure visuals, this doesn’t have the same punch to it.

But that might be more by design than anything else. Whereas the first film pushed harder when it came to scares, both in and out of the film’s reality, this follow-up’s goals appear to be somewhat different: Delving deeper into the characters we saw strike a major wound in Pennywise the first time around. While the presence of the child actors in new footage eases things along in that regard, the now-adult versions of those characters and their individual psychologies takes centre-stage for the most part.

With Bev, we have worries that she can never escape her vile lout of a father. With Bill, it’s survivor’s guilt over his self-supposed role in his brother’s death. With Mike, it’s wanting to make good on the oath they made to return if It did. With Richie, it’s dealing with how much this fight has cost him and how much more it could take away from him on his return. And for all of them, it’s the fear that what they did as kids, and what they learnt about themselves and each other, could have all been for nothing.

Considering how idealistic these characters were even as adolescents, that last one is a murky proposition to think about. They took a stand when no-one else would (or potentially could, given It’s influence), and yet It is still there, still with a stranglehold on the town and still taking lives out of a ravenous hunger for the despair of others. SkarsgĂ„rd honestly doesn’t have the same ‘face of a clown hiding something primal’ effect with this one, which again is partly down to the scripting, but his presence in the story is given weight by how he’s reintroduced: Through the opening with Xavier Dolan’s character being bashed to death. The fear and hatred created by humans, not some cosmic entity, is what gave passage to this creature, as it had for every other cycle in the town’s history. Humanity gave this fear power, and it was humanity that ultimately took it away.

Is this as good as Chapter One? Honestly, no. It’s not quite as scary, the individual moments don’t have as much of an impact, and coming-of-age stories are just easier to invest in as opposed to the prolonged woes of grown-ups. But as a follow-up to that story, as a further look at the characters involved and as somewhat of a subtler take on the idea of fear and what it does to people, I’d still say this works really damn well. I mean, hell, the scares may be diminished but that doesn’t mean they aren’t effective; sweaty palms and heavy breaths were definitely had here. Basically, it may not work that well as an stand-alone film, but for those who vibed with the first part, this is definitely worth checking out.

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