The thriller based on Stephen King’s infamous novel should have ended with Chapter One.
By Andrew Warrick
Photo via Warner Bros.
“We all float down here,” croons Pennywise the clown, who returns in director Andrés Muschietti’s “It Chapter Two,” the second in a series of films based on the 1986 Stephen King novel. The quote is perhaps an overstatement. “It Chapter Two” doesn’t float so much as get dragged down by its own weight.
First, the good stuff — Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise, an otherworldly, shape-shifting monster, is wonderfully terrifying. When the clown is onscreen, the film races forward at a breakneck pace. The rest of the cast is also great. The Loser’s Club, a team of childhood friends who fight the monstrous clown, hits almost every emotional and comedic beat perfectly. No matter how bloated or flat the script becomes, actors like Bill Hader, Jessica Chastain and Finn Wolfhard make it all watchable. It’s a shame they’re almost smothered by a movie that’s too big for its own good.
“It Chapter One” told the story of the children when they first encountered the monster. It was an effective, poignant horror flick. This time, Muschietti attempts to adapt the book’s second half, essentially telling two stories at once. The film cuts between the adult Loser’s Club and their younger counterparts as they try and kill Pennywise for good. It shows how the Losers have changed through the years, while also tackling romance and psychological trauma.
Because of how much story there is to tell, “It Chapter Two” is almost half an hour longer than its predecessor. It has double the cast, double the scares, double the laughs and double the problems. Most of this comes from the unwieldy content and structure of Stephen King’s novel. It clocks in at over a thousand pages and was notoriously written when King was in the throes of drug addiction. It’s not very restrained.
Because of the large cast, the movie is divided into separate sequences focusing on individual characters, which become predictable. While this works structurally in a novel, when separated into chapters, it becomes tiresome on screen. It’s more of a checklist than a story. First we see Ritchie, then Ben, then Beverly, and so on. Then it all repeats. The formulaic storytelling drains much of the film’s tension.
Muschietti alludes to the monster’s history and rules haphazardly, in a way that will leave most audience members who haven’t read the book confused. The ending loses its charm without the novel’s stream of consciousness explanation, becoming anticlimactic.
The opening scene, the murder of a gay couple by some teenagers, could also have been left on the page. It’s ripped from its political context (the scene in the book, set in the 1980s, tackles the AIDS crisis) and leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. It’s also barely relevant to the story Muschietti has chosen to tell.
While the cast is excellent, and the scares occasionally imaginative enough to impress, the clumsiness and overindulgence of “It Chapter Two” keep it from being anything but a passing diversion. It’s the classic example that what works on the page won’t exactly have the same magic on screen. At least there will always be “Chapter One.” Perhaps we can pretend it all ended there.
Andrew Warrick is a student at the University of Michigan. He is majoring in creative writing and history, and is a part of the Residential College. He also leads the RC’s Creative Writing Forum. When not watching movies, he loves hanging out with friends, especially in the spectacular Ann Arbor, becoming addicted to novels, and listening to Bowie records. Some of his favorite movies are “Cloud Atlas,” “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” “Twin Peaks: The Return,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Alien.”