CINEMASCOPE: MORE FUNNY THAN SCARY

September 22, 2019

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It Chapter Two shows how difficult it is to adapt a novel into a film, especially when the book is as lengthy as Stephen King’s supernatural horror novel from 1986. Unlike its competent predecessor, It (2017), Chapter Two can sometimes be frustrating to watch.

The problem starts with the screenplay. Let’s be honest. Like many of Stephen King’s books, It isn’t perfect. There are many parts of the novel that drag. Other sections that worked well in the book were never going to do well on screen. It’s a writer’s job to find the large chunks that will work on the silver screen and stitch them together while staying as faithful to the source material as possible, without comprising the cinematic retelling. And it’s the filmmakers’ job to refine this further and make hard decisions in the editing room.

It seems like director Andy Muschietti, writer Gary Dauberman and editor Jason Ballantine, despite working so well together in the last film, couldn’t quite get it right this time. At nearly three hours long, It Chapter Two has many scenes that should have never made the cut because they are dull. Other sequences start plot threads that don’t pan out. Others still are simply not well-written.

I am not surprised that It Chapter Two isn’t as good as the first film, because, frankly, the second half of the novel also lost steam. Likewise, the miniseries starring Tim Curry in the titular role similarly went downhill.

It Chapter Two is simply not as good as the first film, but that’s because it hews too close to the original Stephen King novel

Being too faithful isn’t the only problem with It Chapter Two. The CGI is uneven, with some of the monsters lacking authenticity. A greater sin is that the film isn’t particularly scary. While the first installment wasn’t frightening either, at least it was original. Disappointingly, this film relies on too many cheap jump scares and special effects frights. What’s more, its titular supernatural clown monster is overexposed.

Not all of this is the fault of the powers that be. A killer clown is scarier when the narrative is told from the perspective of vulnerable children, as was the first. Here, the kids have returned 27 years later as adults because their foe, Pennywise, is back (Bill Skarsgård).

Surprisingly, for a film that’s nearly as long as The Godfather: Part II (1974) or The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), not all of the characters are served with good characterisation. This is unfortunate for a project that boasts talent such as James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain.

Despite being left feeling underwhelmed, I’m still glad I saw It Chapter Two. That’s because of two actors in particular. Bill Skarsgård is excellent when the film allows him to shine, while Bill Hader steals the show. Playing Richie Tozier, Hader has the best story arc in the film and takes every advantage to deliver a compelling performance.

Interestingly, It Chapter Two is surprisingly funny. I can’t remember a more amusing film released in the last few months. Let’s call it the Marvel effect, where mainstream films are now unexpectedly hilarious. It’s just too bad that it’s funnier than it is scary, considering that it’s a horror film. Unfortunately, some of the humour comes at a time when the story should have taken a more serious turn. Some of the horror scenes are plain goofy, in what almost feels like a nod to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 (1987).

The best thing about It Chapter Two is the casting. All the characters are instantly recognisable as adult versions of their teenage counterparts. If only the rest of the filmmaking had been as insightful, we would have been served with a much better final chapter.

Rated R for disturbing violent content and bloody images throughout, pervasive language, and some crude sexual material

Published in Dawn, ICON, September 22nd, 2019