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IT Chapter 2: A mediocre yet thrilling ride

“IT Chapter 2” provides genuine thrills and engaging characters, but never achieves the same kinetic balance and pace as the first film did. That may be due in part to this film’s nearly 3-hour run time. With little downtime, it continuously makes the audience’s feelings range from uneasy to horrified, but never with finesse. Many of the heightened moments of horror are awkwardly built up to (with a few exceptions that are almost completely spoiled in the movie’s trailers) and the viewer is left whiplashed through a series of hefty plot points that never quite come together in a meaningful way.

By far the biggest strength of this film is the cast who all transform into the familiar characters from the first chapter. James McAvoy, in particular, disappears into Bill; even one facial expression from him can tell viewers so much while also causing them to feel sympathy immediately. Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, and Bill Skarsgard also provide memorable performances that are completely committed to making a story about a supernatural clown killing kids into a dark character drama.

And that is where the narrative shines most, when it focuses on the drama and what true horror looks like. Director Andy Muschietti, in an interview with Ben Pearson, claims “the brutality of ‘IT’ is something that comes from human perversion, from human cruelty, and I didn’t want to hold back on that… [Stephen King] was making a story about the cruelty of humans in a small American town.”

Abuse, guilt, discrimination, trauma, patricide and suicide are all issues that plague the characters and funnels Pennywise The Clown’s scares into impactful obstacles that grip the audience more than bloody tentacles ever could.

Despite the darkness of the film, comedic wit and banter is engrained into the fabric of the story and dialogue. It weaves together scenes and gives more thrust to the narrative pace, welcoming the audience into its world. It also makes the scary moments more real and intense.

“IT Chapter 2” has a technical mastery over its story. The camera work is viscously adaptable, using Dutch angles and depth manipulation to create ghoulish realities for the audience, while also taking advantage of wide shots to bolster a sense of grandiosity. The music compounds this, making the audience feel wonder and terror. It uses ironic music cues to build tension, particularly in its diegetic sound (sound that both the characters and the audience hear). The clicking of a lighter, the background music in an empty pharmacy, the charging stomps of an unseen entity, the shattering punches of a desperate wife, and more all contribute to investing the viewer through their ears into whatever is happening on screen.

What causes the film to faulter is the attempted combination of the terrifying Pennywise scenes with the flowing narrative of these characters. To do this, the story grinds to a halt to either spout exposition (including a very contrived ritual that comes out of nowhere and is forgotten about for most of the second act) or indulge in a drawn-out scene of tension which ultimately contributes nothing to the story.

Flashbacks with the characters as their younger selves are used heavily, and seem poignant at first, until every other scene, the younger version is attacked by the titular monster in a flashback. These scenes act like a crutch the film uses when it knows the attacks on the adults are not as scary as the attacks on the kids.

Plot points come and go, and while they are obviously meant to be significant, they never feel fluid or worthwhile. “IT Chapter 2” tries to hide this by ramping up the horror factor, which unfortunately causes the film to fall into cliché territory. Jump scares are copious. Certain supporting characters only exist to meet a tragic fate, which gives the film an unsettling, sadistic quality.

This narrative dissonance buries powerful themes about confronting your past. While the first film was a nostalgic, meticulous horror flick, this sequel doubles down on the horror, but loses much of its meticulousness which ironically makes it less horrifying. If greater attention had been payed to the journey these characters take, “IT Chapter 2” could have been a rousing, impactful, and gripping experience rather than being a mediocre, yet thrilling, ride that leaves the glass half empty.

Loose Change:

  • A Loser’s Club character was so blatantly forgettable and insignificant in the first film that he is removed from this film before the story really even begins.

  • A suicide is framed as almost heroic, making it the second film in a year behind A Star is Born where suicide becomes a sacrificial act that a character must undertake for the greater good of the story and its characters.

  • Stephen King has a cameo and it is very obvious he is not an actor. The scene drags on for so long, it feels oddly gratuitous.

  • CGI is used to de-age the kids in flashbacks. It is very noticeable, especially when one looks at their cartoon-like cheeks.

  • The fat kid, who the pretty girl didn’t pay attention to in school, is grown up and very in shape. He’s hot now so she’s allowed to make googly eyes at him.

  • Biggest jump-out-of-your-seat moment goes to Paul Bunyan.

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