Review by Ashley Hanson
In 2017, IT: Chapter One (the much-anticipated adaptation of Stephen King’s acclaimed horror novel, It) was perhaps one of the most pleasantly surprising and riveting installations in what’s become a seemingly endless Hollywood trend. All of us cinephiles—especially in the middlemost generations like the Millennials and Gen Z-ers—have either settled comfortably into the idea of “remake culture” (where almost every new release is either some remake of an old classic or yet another comic book adaptation) or have violently kicked and screamed against the greedy box office bureaucrats who used nostalgia as a tool to make money off of bland movies with cookie-cutter plotlines.
However—Andy Muschietti’s 2017 adaptation of King’s classic horror novel left our expectations for another disappointing horror film at the door. While the film itself often resorts to a tiresome reliance on jump scares and unnecessarily loud sounds (I know, I sound like an old lady), the child performances and portrayal of the fearsome “Pennywise the clown” from Bill Skarsgard—along with a well-written script, stunning cinematography, and balanced use of color scheme—left audiences everywhere gasping. Folks who hated horror films (like myself) were clamoring to watch it again and again. So yeah, it was an amazing experience for a lot of people, and we wanted more.
As such, it left our expectations for the sequel rather high. After seeing Muschietti at work with the child actors, handling their chemistry amongst one another, their individual challenges, and the antagonist (IT/ Pennywise), we wanted to watch the adult versions of the children we love to return to Derry, Maine to face their demons (and a literal shape-shifter) together one last time. And while that is what we got, audiences everywhere were still disappointed. But why?
(Spoiler territory ahead!)
Having been a huge fan of the 2017 release of It since opening weekend back in September two years ago, I and many other fans have eagerly awaited the follow-up to a film that not only entertained and terrified us, but inspired us to look at our relationships with others and our own psyches a bit more closely. Stephen King’s book, It, uses over one-thousand pages to drive forward this idea, but Warner Bros. managed to send the message in a two-and-some-hour movie.
Which is why the runtime for its sequel felt a little ridiculous. Many audience members tended to gripe about the film’s runtime (clocking in at a solid two hours and fifty minutes), citing that some scenes felt slow or unnecessary. But this aspect didn’t affect me so much as the overall cheesiness of the script, which made many scenes cringe-worthy when they were intended to be heartfelt. The story is meant to take place in present-day (so around 2016), but many of the dialogue bits and interactions felt overused or overdramatized for the sake of padding the runtime. For instance, during the dinner at the Chinese restaurant, when all of the Loser’s Club members reunited for the first time as adults, there’s a montage of raucous dinner-partying wherein two of the guys… arm wrestle? I don’t know if it was just me, but as soon as I saw that I was immediately taken out of the entire scene with the sheer volume of internal screaming, saying “WTF is happening? This is not how people behave!”
But of course, the levels of inane ridiculousness wasn’t just in action. The dialogue would, at times, make me burst into laughter not over how funny the “comedy” was supposed to be, but how terribly cringeworthy the script was written—and that these poor actors were forced to say these things out loud. It felt like I was watching The Neverending Story because that cheese was never-ending. Full-grown adults would dramatically shout “you just have to belieeeeeve!” like a kid’s film from the 80s. And hey, maybe that’s what they were going for, but even so, it was still silly. And did you see the pawnshop scene? Stephen King is a writer—but that doesn’t mean he can act. The whole thing felt robotic and never had any payoff in the film other than stroking some massive ego for three minutes. The whole thing was painfully transparent as “hey, look at me, I’m the creator talking to this character who is also a super-successful writer that no one appreciates, myeh myeh myeh.” (Sorry, I know I sound salty—but that’s because I am. I don’t care who you are; just don’t make a film suffer for your ego. It’s agitating).
Outside of all the cringeworthy blocking and dialogue performances, I will say this: even though I was disappointed with the delivery of the script and storyline, Chung-hoon Chung’s excellent cinematography from IT: Chapter One was certainly passed down to his sequel-predecessor, Checco Varese. The shot composition was gorgeous, and the transitions (while a little wonky at times—like Stan Yuris’s puzzle) between past and present were incredibly impressive and well-lit. Camera angles inspired suspense when they are meant to, but the use of natural daylight and imposing up-angle shots help the audience see Pennywise in his/its full, terrifying glory.
Being able to see Pennywise again, and learning more about the monster itself was also a great benefit to the story. Sure, sometimes it felt like the “plot twists” had next to no build-up from the first film, but the character development was sort of solid (except for Billy and Mike. They learned nothing). Overall, Bill Skarsgard stole the show with his incredible ability to really become the creature and astonish and terrify us with his voracious appetites. To me, that made it worth the price of my ticket and subsequent reckless purchase of Pennywise merchandise. So there, are you happy now, Hollywood?!