There’s exactly one good scene in the second part of Andrés Muschietti’s sprawling adaptation of Stephen King’s even more sprawling horror novel IT. A firefly leads a young girl with a prominent winestain birthmark on her cheek under the bleachers at a baseball game. The titular creature (Bill Skarsgård) awaits her in the form of a clown, luring her closer with crocodile tears and fanciful promises about blowing her birthmark clean off her face. The girl’s tender-hearted kindness to a fellow freak, her mother’s earlier harsh disinterest; it’s as close as Muschietti’s IT comes to tackling the white-hot scenes of violence against children which are the beating heart of King’s huge, brutal, and idiosyncratic novel.
The rest is non-stop wisecracks, unimpressive CGI, Care Bear-league metaphysics, and James McAvoy hollering his lines incoherently. Where Muschietti’s first film found modest success as a kind of gory sleepover flick a la The Goonies, his second collapses under the pressure of its fractured identity as both a loudmouth gross-out comedy and an indifferent, overlong horror movie. It’s a movie with a profound lack of faith in its audience, boiling even King’s simplest thematic stuff about childhood and the nature of fear down to nonsensical fetch quests and reams of sloppy exposition. IT is largely impossible to faithfully adapt owing to the sheer viciousness of the violence against children it depicts and the taboo nature of several of its key scenes, but Muschietti fails to make even an enjoyable derivation of his source material.
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The Art of Shutting Up
The number of scares in IT Chapter 2 not immediately undercut by some one-liner from Richie (Bill Hader) or Eddie (James Ransone) is vanishingly small. The movie can’t let a single gruesome moment pass without a deadpan wisecrack or wry observation, impairing its attempts to build an atmosphere. It doesn’t help that Ransone and Hader are the only two actors in the main ensemble who are anything but a chore to watch. Jessica Chastain is inert as Beverly, James McAvoy is overacting terribly as Bill, and underwear model-esque Jay Ryan utterly fails to bring anything approaching depth to the adult Ben. With all that dead weight it’s perhaps understandable that Muschietti leans hard on his best performers, but the end result isn’t pretty.
The movie’s inability to stop talking about itself extends to Muschietti’s camera, which moves almost constantly in fitful, pointless jerks and bobs. The whole thing is indifferently blocked to begin with, characters standing around awkwardly and crowding practically every frame. The jittery direction renders even the most basic scenes visually muddled and sometimes outright incoherent. IT Chapter 2 never slows down, even when nothing is happening. People walk in and out of rooms. The camera twitches and jerks. The final effect is less industrious collage than three incompetently made movies playing out simultaneously, each yelling at the others.
Perhaps the film’s most jarringly awful visual element is the de-aging effect applied to the faces of the young actors from the first movie. Jeremy Ray Taylor as the young Ben looks especially doll-like and lifeless, so obviously digitally altered that it shatters whatever immersion IT Chapter 2 manages to build in any given scene with the kids. On the storytelling end, the film’s need to ground every plot point with physical artifacts and its introduction of the idea that the Losers’ Club will die if they don’t vanquish the creature create a much more selfish, individualistic story than King’s original, its pragmatic concerns replacing the book’s ideas of community and traumatic coming of age with simple self-interest.
Beating Dead Horses
For all its relentless busyness, IT Chapter 2 stretches out every scare, every conversation, every action sequence. There’s a death scene toward the end of the movie that happens in three stages during a period of over five minutes, the dying character providing seat-of-his-pants exposition the entire time. The final confrontation with the creature is a grueling forty minutes of stop-and-start CGI mayhem, lots of the titular monster menacing the grown-up Losers’ Club and then scaring them into little pocket universes where they confront less interesting versions of things they’ve already grappled with earlier in the movie. At nearly three hours long, IT Chapter 2’s runtime is disastrously overblown, its pacing soggy and strained. In its final act it goes through three hastily-explained plans to kill the creature, two of them expounded upon during the final fight.
There’s so much in this movie that doesn’t need to be there. It’s slack in all the wrong places and tight where it should breathe. A scene in which Beverly’s father is implied to rape her stretches on for minutes on end, not to let its rancid emotional aura sink in but to continually double down on absurd dialogue like “She did what she did because she was ashamed to be your mother!” and the sight of Beverly doused in her mother’s perfume and clasped tight to her father’s body. Another scene in which young Richie (Finn Wolfhard) struggles with shame over his sexuality, one of the few subtly acted bits in the entire thing, gets barely thirty seconds of screen time. (The dissonance of homosexuality being treated as a terrifying secret by a grown man living in 2010s LA is itself quite something, but enough said). IT Chapter 2 might work better with 60 or 70 minutes lopped off its running time, but the film’s bones just aren’t up to much. It’s an amateurish exercise in self-defeat.