It Chapter 2 – Film Review
by David Turpin
Directed by Andy Muschietti
Starring Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader
It (2017) was no masterpiece. A slavishly faithful adaptation of the first half of Stephen King’s 1986 novel of the same name, it played as a string of events more than as a cumulative narrative, and would have felt most appropriate for young teenagers, had the ‘f-bomb’ laden dialogue not excluded them as an audience. Nevertheless, it hoovered up over $700 million at the box office, suggesting enough people were able to rediscover – or had never abandoned – their easily frightened inner child, and making a sequel an inevitability.
Here it is: close to three whole hours of baggy plotting, bellowed dialogue, and over-egged special effects, the rambling cadence of which is, one presumes, faithfully ported over from King’s sacred text. It’s the ‘biggest’ major studio horror film in some time; and it’s the worst, by a considerable distance – a remarkable downturn in quality, even from its middling predecessor. If you’re scared of men in make-up, Chinese food or the naked bodies of the elderly, knock yourself out; if not, you might find yourself wondering what this specific set of horror fetishes says about American culture at large.
There is no story, but this-happens-and-then-this-happens-and-then-this-happens when the self-appointed ‘Losers Club’ we last saw in a cornily evoked 1989 return to their hometown of Derry, Maine, to once again do battle with an ill-defined force of evil that crops up every 27 years to murder random bit players, but elects only to impotently taunt anyone who might actually destroy it.
The characters (now played by Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, and more) have suppressed their memories of the evil – and its most frequent embodiment, Pennywise the clown (Bill Skarsgård) – since leaving their home. Their incremental but vague reawakening means we get to recap the events of the first film at some length during an already bloated running time, in which stuff keeps getting flung at the screen but very little seems to actually happen.
McAvoy gives his usual gurning performance as Bill – who we presume to be an avatar for King, since he is a writer, and since King himself makes a creaky cameo appearance alongside him. Hader essays Richie, the annoying brat from the first film, who has grown up to be a famous comedian with a terrible, terrible secret! It’s nice to see a very talented, dependably intelligent actress like Chastain headlining a ‘blockbuster’ of this scale – or at least it would be, if she wasn’t absolutely, unprecedentedly dreadful. The writing for her character is the worst in the film, and Chastain has made the choice to deliver it all in a cloying ‘baby voice’. It doesn’t help – though one grimly suspects it’s supposed to intimate something about the lifelong effects of sexual abuse.
Let us be clear, readers, It: Chapter 2 is a Message Movie. We know this from the first scene, which nobly draws our attention to a Very Important Issue by giving us a Dolby-surround gay bashing. It has no bearing on any of the rest of the film and is never mentioned again, but it does come as sweet relief after a pair of actors (including, mystifyingly, Xavier Dolan) are asked to deliver dialogue that qualifies as a hate-crime in its own right. Beleaguered gays are also catered to with an ‘unrequited love’ subplot that was apparently not part of King’s original novel, perhaps because it would have seemed a little dated in 1986. Still, diversity’s great, isn’t it? Just ask the CGI Native Americans getting their faces ripped off in flashback. Or just put such concerns aside and while away the time waiting for one of the dozens of retrograde ‘fat jokes’ to land (spoiler alert: none do).
Most annoyingly, It: Chapter 2 wants to take our hand and talk to us about repressed trauma, and how it can make adult lives difficult. If that’s not exactly worth holding the front page for, sit tight – because, according to the film’s addled sanctimony, childhood trauma also makes us more creative, more sensitive, and just downright sexier. Swings and roundabouts, I suppose.
Still, no doubt this will clean up at the box office, and perhaps its fidelity to the source text will make fans feel appropriately ‘served’. The rest of us can only hope it’s more than 27 years before we’re asked to sit through another three hours of such mawkish hogwash.