Andy Muschietti’s “IT: CHAPTER 2”
Movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
I didn’t really enjoy the first IT movie and never finished reading Stephen King’s overly long and poorly edited novel. I therefore approached this current film with some reluctance. But I’m currently reading Stephen King’s excellent 11/22/63 where Derry, Maine in the late 50’s is featured and was therefore interested in how Derry would be presented in this new film. (Also, I greatly enjoy Jessica Chastain (Interstellar, Tree of Life) so off I went.
The movie starts in the present day, 27 years after the events of the first film, with a gruesome violent attack that’s followed by the grisly reappearance of the evil clown Pennywise. One of the original group of kids who still lives in Derry recognizes the signs of evil Pennywise’s return. We then witness his calls to the dispersed members of the original “Losers” club. He reminds them all of their long ago promise to come back should the evil ever return to Derry.
I quickly engaged with the director’s style of filmmaking. The people and settings are in constant motion, even in dialog heavy scenes. Quickly we’re introduced to the characters and where they are now in life. We watch them gather in a Chinese restaurant where they catch up and reminisce and learn why they are gathered together. The ensemble acting here is some of the best in the film.
They must act as a group, they are told by the convener, to combat the evil that has returned to Derry. Some are reluctant to stay around, especially when in the restaurant they witness the first manifestation of evil on them as a group. (I won’t provide any details of what happens; let’s just say it has to do with fortune cookies.)
It’s a long movie – almost three hours -- but there’s never a dull moment. If we’re not witnessing the predations of Pennywise we’re watching the very interesting and different characters interact, or we’re shifting back and forth in time between when the group was composed of adolescents, and them as present-day adults. One by one, each adult experiences a personal visitation of terror bordering on nightmare and we realize that Pennywise has evil powers that extend far beyond scaring – or eating – little children.
All these scenes, regardless of whether they feature the terrifying Pennywise or are reflecting personal trauma, are extremely well produced and acted by a superb cast. By the exhausting end of the film you also can’t help but realize that the physical rigors of making this film must have weighed very heavily on all the film’s participants despite its heavy reliance at times on CGI. Being buried alive, almost drowning in buckets of blood, and other physical horror and nightmare tropes still scare when handled correctly, as they are here.
My only disappointment was how the town of Derry is portrayed. From reading the first half of the original novel IT and from my current reading of King’s 11/22/63, I was expecting a much more decrepit and forbidding Derry, Maine. But even when we go back to 1991 via the story’s flashbacks the town looks pretty good and as a result does not have the sinister presence I would have expected.
The movie effectively communicates that Pennywise is a very complex manifestation of evil who preys on the fears and insecurities of the humans he torments. This theme, carried over from the book, illustrates that the story not just going for cheap “jump scares” but is also relying on skillfully created characters and a tricky sequence of events to suck the reader – and the viewer – into the author’s twisted imagination.
Review copyright © 2019 by Dennis D. McDonald