Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Movie Review: Stephen King's IT Chapter II - Thrilling, Fun and Grotesque, but does it Remain True to its Roots?

Review by Ashton Samson

It is an immensely difficult task to do justice to a horror movie, chiefly because the genre is in a constant need of resurgence. Over time, fans get tired of seeing the same type of villains or monsters slash their way across the screen, until there is only one person left standing. We want to see something new, because we know just how successful and spectacular horror can be whenever the formula is reinvented. Just think about every significant movie in the genre. Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Psycho and many other game-changing horror films were made at times where the genre was in a need of change. These films proved themselves worthy of being the best horror pictures of their time, and also paved the way for future horror. 

The problem is, years later, the formula hasn’t really been reinvented. There are a few exceptions such as Hereditary and The Witch, which are unique perspectives on subject matters that have already been at the center of several movies. However, other than those two and a few others, there aren’t many new horror movies out there that are really worth watching. Andy Muschietti had an extra layer of work to do with It Chapter II as director because, not only is it a horror movie, it is a sequel. 

Sequels are not easy to make because you are more or less attempting to top yourself from whatever you accomplished the last time. Muschietti accomplished movie magic with It Chapter I (2017), so he knew it was going to be no small feat to make not only a horror movie, but a sequel, a remake and an adaption of one of the greatest horror novels in the history of literature, It (1986). The fact that he pulled off as much as he did in this new film is truly remarkable, which is why it is even more exasperating that the second half of this movie, drifts off and loses air, much like the red balloon that heralds the arrival of Pennywise in the first place. Fans of the novel will no doubt be disappointed by the random, vague and incomplete ending, that could easily be compared to lesser horror films released this year that have also had flawed endings. However, they should also look at some of the impressive parts of the novel that Muschietti managed to depict in this movie, because when adapting a book of that magnitude with multiple subplots, the project must truly be daunting.

In film, having actors who can show true emotion and evoke real sympathy is clearly a necessary component. It is even more necessary to have range as an actor when you are appearing in a horror movie. You need to have the ability to exhibit terror, but also vulnerability when you are alone with the monsters. They also need to be overjoyed when (and if) their characters have defeated the antagonist and happy when they are with their friends and family who have survived the trauma, only too often to learn that they may have to courageously face that terror once again. There was a nice realization halfway into the film, before the disastrous ending makes itself known, that It Chapter II was one of the first horror films in a long time to capture the essence of good actors who could skillfully convey the story. 

The seven main characters in It Chapter II are all portrayed by talented actors, who truly inhabit the personalities and mannerisms of the children who appear in the first picture (and make fabulous returns in Chapter II), and are also capable of conveying a multitude of emotions. Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise never disappoints. Jessica Chastain as Beverly Marsh and James McAvoy as Bill Denbrough shine as the two leads. The reason why I mention McAvoy and Chastain specifically is that not only are they the most experienced of the seven, I can take them far more seriously when they are running away from Pennywise, scared to death, than some of the other stars, who sometimes come across as being too comedic in a scene that should be instilling fear. Bill Hader, as Richie for the most part does a fantastic job of replicating the mixture of humor and earnestness that Finn Wolfhard brought to the first film.

However, there are certain scenes in this nearly 3-hour movie that could have been shortened, almost all of which involve Hader cracking a joke. Although these jokes are often hilarious, some of them should have been eliminated so that there would be more room for a longer, more detailed ending, focusing on more details about the origins of Pennywise and the way to It’s demise. In spite of the comic distraction, Hader was way better than most in the horror movie world at conveying sheer terror and indignation in certain scenes. Muschietti seems to have started out knowing exactly what he needed to draw out from his actors in certain cases, but for some reason, it went downhill with certain scenes. Such things also happened with some of the visuals and special effects.

Thinking about some of the best horror villains out there; Freddy Krueger, Pinhead, Jason Voorhees and many other antagonists in the “Horror Hall of Fame”, one thing is clear, their performances are enhanced enormously by their ghastly features, as well as their inevitable trail of death and destruction. In these films, part of an actor’s success is attributable to the vision, artistry and talent of the special effects team. Other horror movies such as Jaws, The Babadook and The Omen chose not to rely on special effects to create an atmosphere of fear and suspense, but instead create terror in the unknown or unseen. Directors of these types of films leave it up to the viewer to decide just how gruesome the villain should look, or the level of on screen gore that should be used in a particular scene. 

It Chapter II, falls clearly into the first category of films, especially the second half. Not only does Pennywise transform into various repugnant and distasteful versions of himself, he also engages in several acts of unspeakable violence, such as biting a young girl’s head off, snacking on the neck of a young man, and stabbing a main character in the chest. It’s safe to assume that It Chapter II doesn’t shy away from it’s onscreen kills. Each of these scenes earn the scare that horror fans seek and immerse us in fabulous special effects. That is until a certain point, towards the end where everything goes crazy, and not in a good way. In the beginning many of the effects are superb, stomach churning and, even for the faint of heart, possibly even vomit-inducing, but towards the end, it is as if they went past their budget and haphazardly threw together some of the most basic and almost silly CGI creations out there. 

This is once again a perfect example of how Muschietti, on the one hand, recognized all of the most salient details that were needed in terms of crafting a horror movie, and then, on the other hand, lost his way. There is a very simple explanation as to why this happened, and it is similar to the reason why some of the greatest horror movies of 2018 and 2019 that were remakes and/or sequels (although fabulous movies in general) left us hanging with vague, incomplete endings. In both cases, there was a disconnection from the source material, or the original movie, that made the story a popular and successful hit in the first place.

What are some of the movies that have had trouble crafting faithful endings to original material, and why do these movies, including It Chapter II, have such issues in the first place? Some films in recent memory include Suspiria (2018), Halloween (2018), Pet Sematary (2019). In the case of Suspiria, Pet Sematary and It Chapter II, they are all remakes of films and adaptations. All three are also pretty fantastic until a certain point where the audience realizes that the director was most likely frightened of doing a complete retread of its predecessor. Instead, they crafted an ending that didn’t include enough throwbacks to the original plot, and was too far away from the original film, which makes the point that one doesn’t want to copy the original film one-hundred percent in a remake, but also doesn’t want to stray too far from the main intentions of the novel and/or original film either. 

Suspiria had a ludicrous and lurid ending, that went too far, had terrible effects and completely changed the true intentions of Dario Argento’s world. Pet Sematary made similar choices where one decision to change the story arc of a particular character destroyed the whole film, and now, It Chapter II has unfortunately made these same mistakes. Everything falls apart after The Ritual of Chud is mentioned.

 In the novel, it is a brilliant ritual that takes place in order to defeat Pennywise for
good. However, between the fact that there is a lot of time spent with Chud, and the level of violence, perversion and downright craziness that takes place throughout this section of the novel, one could classify The Ritual of Chud as nearly unfilmable. Instead of subtracting some of the jokes, and old rehashes from the first film, the ritual is briefly mentioned, doesn’t happen to the full extent that it happens in the novel, and therefore is replaced with another inconsequential ending, which is pretty much the same ending as It Chapter I. Unable to effectively communicate the origins of Pennywise or depict the details of the ritual that will cause his demise, the ending of the film peters out like Pennywise himself, and the opportunity to communicate King’s deeper message regarding the ultimate triumphs of The Losers due to the power of their sacred bond dwindles. 

Certain horror films that are seen just for a jump scare can survive these slight bumps in the road. It is unfortunate that such silly sacrifices are made in It Chapter II, in an attempt to be different than its predecessor, and in its inability to truly give the ending its due. Despite the eye-popping special effects, the top-notch acting and the opportunity to adapt from an original story that inspires true fear and deep friendship, the deviation from the source material in vital parts of the story does a disservice to that story and its fans. 

Still, one cannot forget the fact that Andy Muschietti honors the rules of the horror genre while trying to go deeper into the novel. For a certain period of time, he creates a truly fun, thrilling, grotesque and comedic films that does ultimately speak to the main idea, which is that The Losers were not losers at all and that by coming together friends can defeat their deepest fears. For that he should be truly commended and for that we can all get together with our own friends and see this movie.
Among the many things that aren’t included in the film, there is one line that Bill repeats throughout the novel in order to lessen the extent of his stuttering, that also supports one of the main themes of the story. So here it is for you to read on a dark fall night, before curling up to watch your own special stash of horror movies, stop to consider the true message of It : Overcoming your fears.

“He thrusts his fists against the post, and 
still insists he sees the ghosts.

Ashton Samson is the newest film critic for 
To keep abreast of his reviews:

Like/follow us on Facebook  

All photos courtesy of It Chapter 2 Facebook

No comments:

Post a Comment