If I had been blogging this time last year, and had reviewed IT Chapter One, I would have said that the film was a success on multiple fronts. Horror movie fans could get behind the creature effects and scares, people who liked the original film could appreciate the expansion of the core storyline, and those of us who enjoyed the book definitely found it a more faithful adaptation. Additionally, the child protagonists were, on the whole, well-rounded, sympathetic characters, and the young actors did a terrific job with a tightly constructed script. I had a few quibbles (namely the marginalization of Mike, my favorite character from the book, and the fact that Beverly, the only girl, was pushed into a victim role in the movie’s climax), but other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and happily recommended it. To anyone who doesn’t shy away from horror, at least.
So that brings me to IT Chapter Two, which Katie and I saw last week. When the final credits rolled, instead of immediately launching into an animated discussion (as we did after Chapter One), we both sat in silence for several minutes, trying to formulate our response. In our personal BFF language, that kind of pause means we aren’t giving a movie five stars.
We eventually broke down our conversation the same way I’m structuring the rest of this review: How successful is the film as a horror movie, a sequel to the first chapter, and an adaptation of the book? The answers, it turned out, are radically different.
As a Horror Movie
This is where Chapter Two is most successful. There is some truly scary stuff in this film, especially in an early scene shortly after the protagonists (now adults), reunite in their hometown to face the return of the monster from their childhood. In addition to that standout scene, you can expect to see Pennywise in a variety of different forms, most of them tailored to the characters’ individual fears and circumstances. I did find the climatic sequence a little overlong, but have discovered that even in my personal circle opinions vary wildly on that point. This movie takes a lot of pages from the classic monster movie aesthetic, and in that respect, it mostly works.
Taken as a creature feature, it’s far better than most, so if you enjoy a good monster movie, I strongly recommend this one.
As a Sequel to Chapter One
Let’s just get this out of the way: if you liked Chapter One, it’s a good idea to lower your expectations, because IT Chapter Two is a far weaker film. For one thing, the adult versions of the characters are nowhere nearly as well developed as their childhood counterparts. The filmmakers seemed to feel that the audience knew enough about the kids to instantly understand and connect with the same characters as grown ups, and so they decided cut character development in favor of more monsters. The movie also features a lot of flashbacks to the characters as children, which, unfortunately, didn’t actually succeed in making the adults feel three-dimensional. To be honest, I not only failed to connect with the protagonists, but found them genuinely frustrating. Instead of frightened, but determined, people who trusted the strength of their bond and believed that they had a responsibility to confront a great evil, there was a lot of conflict centering on the desire to run away. The movie even goes so far as to add a selfish motive to pull them in, introducing psychic visions (don’t get me started) that prove that if they don’t confront Pennywise, they’re all going to die. Even the instances of nobility were undercut by other factors (which I won’t discuss because of my “no spoiler” policy, but trust me on this).
At nearly three hours, the movie had a lot of time to do a lot of things, but it mostly did the same things a lot. This film was supposed to be about the adults, but the flashbacks (which were definitely a mixed bag in terms of storytelling) created an inconsistent focus. The horror sequences were generally well done, but took away from plot and character development. A secondary antagonist, who should have had much more of an impact, starts strong and then fizzles out, largely because he simply wasn’t given enough time. Additionally, the final confrontation sequence had so much packed into it that it had the unintended effect of making Pennywise’s motivation inconsistent and borderline nonsensical. It upped his power level to the point where his victory seems inevitable, without really bothering to justify why he doesn’t just win already, and then tries to balance that with…well, to avoid spoilers I’ll just say with something that feels incredibly unsatisfying. (If I was being uncharitable, I’d call it stupid.)
Does all that mean the movie isn’t worth your time? No. Katie and I were both glad we went, and there definitely things we liked (see the first section), but there’s just no question that Chapter Two in no way lives up to Chapter One.
As an Adaption of the Book
There’s no way to dive deep into this without massive spoilers for both the book and the movie, but I wanted to at least give book fans a heads up. As an adaption, once again, Chapter One worked a lot better than Chapter Two.
On the plus side, I was thrilled to see Canal Days. The 1990s movie completely eliminated Derry’s annual carnival, and I always thought that was a mistake. This movie opens with it, is faithful to the powerful scene from the book (Adrian, the hat, and everything that came after), and drives home the idea that Pennywise’s influence has spread throughout the town. Unfortunately, that idea isn’t carried through, but the opening scene is still fantastic. I also loved that they included Paul Bunyan, and several other great elements from the novel.
On a less positive note, the movie takes a stab at bringing in some of the more mystical elements of the book, including Pennywise’s origin, and a version of the ritual of Chud. Well, a ritual they called Chud. Truth be told, I wish they’d just left all of this out, because these elements are largely there to provide plot fuel for elements of the movie that I don’t particularly like, and for character changes that actually made me angry.
Speaking (again) about the characters: Do yourself a favor and try not to think about the characters from the book, because otherwise you’re likely to be upset. These are not the same people. They aren’t really trying to be the same people. One character in particular, I think, is flat-out ruined by a “twist” that creates additional interpersonal conflict (like the movie needed any more) by completely changing the character’s motivations and actions in a very negative way. I support a movie’s right to make changes, but also believe in fair warning. Don’t think about the book while you watch this movie. Try to enjoy it for what it IS, not for what it could have been.
I do have to say that Katie, who has not read the book, also didn’t care for the way the aforementioned character was scripted. She didn’t have the book to compare it to; she just thought it was bad storytelling.
Thoughts on this movie? On horror movies? On book to film adaptions? Anything else on your mind?