The problem that has always plagued adaptations of Stephen King’s IT is that the two halves—kids and grown-ups—are not equally interesting. Nostalgic coming-of-age tales of scary monsters and friendship are inherently more engaging than 40-somethings with bad memories.
Chapter One put us in the shoes of teens navigating the treacherous waters of growing up while facing real peril from bullies and creepy, abusive adults. The otherworldly monster preys on familiar fears: abandoned houses, dark and unexplored corners of the place you live, and most of all, clowns. Ideal for a character-driven horror flick.
Chapter Two makes it to the end of its marathon runtime with the help of excellent performances, a few genuinely touching moments, and some laughs from Bill Hader. But the scares don’t cut as deep, the overexplanation takes way too long, and even the jokes get old. Kids vs. clowns and bullies in a nostalgic setting is a terrific setup. Grown-ups vs. the same clown and the same bully is redundant, no matter how much good humor its all-star cast can muster.
Twenty-seven years after the events of Chapter One, Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgard) has returned to terrorize and hunt the children of Derry, Maine. The Losers, the scrappy gang of outcasts who defeated Pennywise last time, have grown up and moved on, forgetting the events, the town, even each other. Only Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) has stayed behind, and when Pennywise returns to claim more lives, he reassembles the gang to fulfill their promise: if It ever comes back, they’ll finish the job.
IT Chapter Two
R, 169 minutes
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema
Already, this is a story that relies more on referencing what has already happened than doing something new. As part of a ritual to defeat Pennywise (long story), the Losers must find a “token” from their past, revisiting a location from 1988 when the group went their separate ways. It’s a fine idea and there are a few good moments in there, but all of the scares are of the same type. The first jump scare works—but your brain and body instinctively learn the rhythm, and when the next scare happens, it works on paper and in principle, but not on you. Repeat five times. Then you become utterly bored during what is supposed to be a climactic battle.
It would be wonderful if IT Chapter Two were enough of its own statement that comparisons weren’t necessary, but the film simply doesn’t make that possible. Stephen King’s novel isn’t told in chronological order, and in that format, events that occur 27 years apart can occupy the same emotional space. The kids react instinctively, while the adults learn the monster’s origins and how to defeat it. When the two halves are told back to back in film and left to fend for themselves, the adults come up short.
James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Mustafa, and Hader play the adult Losers. It’s quite a cast, and no one goes halfway just because it’s a horror sequel. Much has been made of Hader’s performance, and while he is as solid as ever, his one-liners begin to prove distracting when he’s no longer making jokes as a character, but to make the audience laugh. A character who’s funny makes perfect sense, and Hader is a wonderful choice. A comic relief to deflate the terror with quips is less so. This is a writing problem, not a performance problem.
One last thing worth mentioning is that It Chapter Two begins with a horrific hate crime against a gay couple. Chapter One began with Georgie being dismembered, but that is ultimately tied to the themes of the story and sets off a chain of events. The connection here is less clear, both narratively and thematically, so it’s simply a realistic attack of the sort that really happens, then it’s on to the quips and demonic cosmology. If it’s a statement about the monsters that exist in us already, it’s a sloppy one, and only adds to the confusion of this movie and why it exists.
Local theater listings
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema 375 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056.
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213.
Violet Crown Cinema 200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000.
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PG, 114 minutes
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, September 11