Last week Pennywise and the Loser’s Club (good name for a band) returned to our screens with It: Chapter 2 and I watched it at the earliest screening I could physically get to, nervous and excited in equal measure.
So...what did I think? Was it, as I feared, a huge disappointment? Or did it live up to my expectations?
It didn't disappoint, but while I really enjoyed it I can't say it hit the same heights as Chapter One.
John Squires from Bloody Disgusting called it Andy Muschietti’s Elm Street and I think this is spot on. The film hurtles and lurches from one set piece to the next, each iteration of Pennywise vying to be the most creepy or bizarre. There is even a little nod to Elm Street towards the end of the film—which was a lovely touch.
In a way this gives the film an air of Argento because the set pieces are often really good and always very striking. The house of mirrors at the carnival is disorientating and shows that Pennywise still has teeth, but my standout sequence probably has to be when Beverly returns to her old apartment—eliciting a wonderful mixture of laughter and shrieks of disgust from the audience.
Chapter One had a huge heart. It was horror’s version of The Goonies and while the young Loser’s Club are still part of the film, we spend much less time with them than we did. This film was always going to be more about the adult versions of the Loser’s Club and because of that it was always going to lose a little of the coming of age warmth of the first film. Having said that, I still felt a strong connection to the characters and Chapter Two did manage to get me on an emotional level (if not as powerfully as Chapter One).
One criticism I had of the first film was that Mike Hanlon was given less screen time than the other members of the Loser’s Club and in a way Chosen Jacobs is still given the least amount of time—redressed somewhat by Isiah Mustafa's older version acting as a pivotal role in Chapter Two, bringing the band back together.
The casting of the grown up Loser’s Club was excellent*. Wyatt Oleff and Andy Bean, the two ages of Stan are eerily similar and you can see glimpses of the young characters in the older actors. Bill Hader and James Ransone provide a brilliant double act in Eddie and Richie and give us a little bit of that heart of the first film.
The performances are good—really good—and even though it felt like reduced screen time for Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise, he is still the star of this adaptation. Disturbing and funny by turn, he has created an iconic version of an iconic character. You are left wishing that Muschietti had let Skarsgård carry the bulk of the scares on his own than rely so much on CGI.
Chapter Two opens with an intense homophobic attack and I’ve heard some criticism that this doesn’t advance the story and doesn’t justify its place. I can see the point being made, but I feel it is an important scene because of how it exists within the context of Derry. As in Chapter One, Derry is an important character in the film. Derry is, in a sense, an extension of Pennywise. I think Chapter One showed this more deftly with characters standing by while a horrific incident took place—the car that drove past without stopping when Ben was being attacked by Henry Bowers to take an example. The attack at the beginning of Chapter Two shows us that the dark side of Derry, the Pennywise side, is still very much alive.
In the last post I said I was nervous about how I would feel about Chapter Two—mostly due to how much I loved Chapter One. While Chapter Two is not as good an all-round film as Chapter One I think that they make a brilliant two-part adaptation of a very complicated novel. I really enjoyed watching it, I loved the over the top set pieces—and laughed very hard at a musical vomit sequence—and came away from the cinema feeling satisfied that the story had been concluded well.
1990 vs 2017/2019?
I need to let the current adaptation settle before I feel I can answer this. While I love the Tim Curry version, my feeling is still that my favourite is the modern adaptation. I will come back to this question though (and I’m sure I won’t be alone in doing so).
*Casting deserves recognition in awards ceremonies. Good casting can make a film (equally bad casting can ruin it) and it is an often overlooked aspect of film making.