I think some people were tricked by the first It film, in a way. Although there is certainly horror abound in the It tale, it’s just as much a character study as it is a “scary” one. It’s about the dangers of small-town life and what it really means to escape it (or stick with it). It also deals with relationships, the passage of time, and letting go of the past or embracing parts of it. We had shades of that with Its first chapter in 2017. Now, when the time has come to double down on the themes with part two, a sordid mishmash of book and adapted storylines swirl together and are unable to deliver.
If you want It Chapter Two to be full of scares (also known as a “traditional horror film”) you’re going to be disappointed, as there’s little there for you here. In a way, it makes sense, as part two was never really going to be packed full of thrills given how much material it needs to get through, but even then the powers that be failed in the few chances they had. In a stark contrast to the first film, there’s almost a complete lack of dread. Instead of scared kids trying to make sense of the mystery around them, we have fully grown, capable, and plot-armoured adults executing a plan that comes to light in the first 45 minutes.
Now you can still build great horror here, but even that fails. Most of the scares in Chapter Two are jump-based and cheap, which feels like a complete 180. Many of them are directed or framed poorly, are way too obvious (or complete echoes of scenes already done better in part one), or have little to no build-up, which leads to the conclusion feeling unearned. In a bizarre twist of fate, a few are even played for laughs that no one in my theatre reacted to. Plus, there’s an inexplicable new greasy film of cheesy music in some scenes that dissipates any dread.
To be fair, adapting the whole It enchilada for a general audience is an almost impossible task, and it was done serviceably here with cutting and pasting (it would have been real hard to show a cosmic turtle after the mostly grounded original). It was much easier the first time around: you have young kids (which gives off an affable Goonies vibe) hunted by a monster. Done! But with the second more grown-up story you need a lot more nuance and even more exposition (my God, the exposition), including the massive task of having to explain It.
It’s harder to suspend your disbelief and just roll with it, especially when the pacing is so off and the film is almost three hours in length. Nearly three hours isn’t all that much to sit through: in fact, if a film warrants it, I can take pretty much any runtime imaginable. But given that we already got a “part one,” it boggles the mind why It Chapter Two needed to be this long. By the time the halfway mark rolls around (at which point most feature films end, with or without a part one setup) I started to lose interest. Editing is to blame, but it also clings to the past with many out of place (or once again, exposition-building) flashbacks. Again, I get that you need to show the cast’s growth, especially if it wasn’t possible in part one for any number of creative or practical reasons, but so many of these specific scenes did not serve the plot and dragged.
The lack of Cary Fukunaga (who helped write the screenplay of the superior part one) is felt. Other than Bill Hader, who gets some pretty incredible zingers, the writing feels flat and in many cases, packed with generic horror dialogue. There’s just no real bite to it as much of the script is exposition with some really bad one-liners to boot. Beyond the loss of Fukunaga (who left the original before it even began filming) the whole situation wreaks of studio meddling, who left the first to its own devices, then stepped in after it became a massive hit.
That’s not to say part two is bad! The performances range from convincing to delightfully over-the-top, and pretty much every actor hits their mark. Hader will win an academy award one day (not just for acting, but writing/directing if season two of Barry is any indication), and Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy are as commanding as ever. Isaiah Mustafa, mostly known for commercials, breathes humanizing life into an adult Mike, and James Ransone gives Hader a run for his money in the comedic department.
I can see the cast going home after filming their scenes, packing it in and thinking they made a fantastic film. And they really did, in theory! But thanks to inelegant editing and a confusing score, the end result isn’t quite what anyone expected. At least they didn’t ruin it.