“A solid finale that suffers from a lack of its primary antagonist. When he does appear, Pennywise is once again the star of the show”
James Cameron once said in the preface to the novelisation of his film ‘The Abyss‘ that a film is not a book. And he was right. A book makes the reader imagine and visualise what’s happening in their own mind’s eye. A film will show them. Most of the time, the imagery conjured up in the readers’ mind doesn’t correspond to what they see in the screen adaptation, creating a feeling of disappointment in the viewer, their image taken from their minds and replaced by something that very rarely lives up to their vision. Many films have done that over the years. The original ‘IT‘ from 2017 went this way too.
What I read as a child and what I saw on the screen didn’t compliment each other at all. However, I gave the film a chance to impress me with its own visuals and style of storytelling. And I came away disappointed again. Don’t get me wrong, the film isn’t bad, in fact, its pretty good and at the least, one of the better adaptations of Stephen King’s novels. But having said that, I felt the film wasn’t as good as it was made out to be, despite excellent performances from the young cast, especially Jaeden Lieberher as Bill, Finn Wolfhard as Richie and a scene-stealing performance from actress Sophia Lillis as Beverley. Miss Lillis was the standout from the young cast as she played the role to perfection. And then we have Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise. Tim Curry played him in the 1990 TV version of the book and was magnificent in the role. Skarsgard went out and topped him. He IS Pennywise in every sense of the word, a pitch-perfect movie version of the monster from the novel. And although I had my problems with the film, I was eager to see how the sequel would treat the rest of the book.
IT: Chapter Two (Warner Bros.)
The film opens 27 years later, once again in the town of Derry in Maine. We enter the towns funfair as several people take on each other on one of the fair’s attractions, the clown water pistol game, the game where competitors squirt water at plastic clowns open mouths to inflate a balloon until it bursts to win a prize. A twenty-something young man wins but gives his prize to a young girl competing next to him, much to her delight. He then walks away with his friend, talking and laughing until they stop and kiss in the middle of the fair. This public display of affection doesn’t go down well with a group of youths who decide to shout verbal abuse and homophobic slurs at them, resulting in one of the two throwing back a harmless but biting sarcastic comment to them. The two lovers decide to stroll home whereupon they are attacked by the group and are subjected to a violent homophobic attack resulting in one of the two being thrown over a bridge into the river below. Swept slightly downstream, the youngster sees what looks to be someone on the bank of the shore trying to help him out of the water. His boyfriend runs down to the bank on the other side and spots his lover being lifted from the water. But the person who has saved him is dressed like a clown. Pennywise is back. And he wastes no time in getting down to business, biting into the young man’s chest and ripping his heart out as his distraught love looks on helplessly. And then his vision is blocked out by hundreds of red balloons that have suddenly appeared from nowhere drifting past the river. When they clear, there is no sign of Pennywise or the body of his love.
The film runs to almost three hours but despite all the scares in the film, this opening scene is the most horrifying. Not because of what Pennywise does to one of the two men or the blood and gore briefly glimpsed but because of what mankind will do to its own. The homophobic attack is horrifying in its brutality. Readers of the book will already know that this scene is coming but all the same, when it happens, it shocks us to the core. The novel may have been written back in 1986 but the theme is even more relevant today. In the book, it was designed to shock but seeing it played out on film, I found myself gasping alongside the rest of the audience at what we were seeing. We were in the theatre to watch a horror movie but most of the audience didn’t realise as the film started that the true face of horror wasn’t a killer clown but a group of young men openly displaying prejudice to their fellow humans.
Derry resident Mike Hanlon, one of the original kids who defeated Pennywise is the only member of ‘The Losers Club’ who still resides in the small town. Hearing the alert over a police scanner, he races to the waterfront. Once there, he spots a red balloon floating through the air, pointing out to him a message that has been daubed on one of the bridges support pillars. As he walks around to see what the message says, he is shocked to read what it says. There, tall and wide and written in blood is the simple message, ‘Come Back’ written three times. Mike realises IT has resurfaced and is back once more for blood. And it wants The Losers Club to come home to him once again. With the exception of Mike, who never left, the rest of the club have long ago moved away from the town. All are amnesiac and have no recollection of the events of 27 years ago. But one by one, they receive a phone call from Mike telling them to come home and to remember their oath from that fateful summer. All return but one. Stanley remembers the events in a moment of clarity. Realising he can’t face to go back and take on Pennywise again due to fear and understanding that if he did, he would cause the deaths of his former friends, he commits suicide in the bathtub by cutting his wrists.
At a reunion dinner in a Chinese restaurant in Derry, the former friends start to get the memories of that fateful summer back. As they open their fortune cookies at the end of the meal, each gets a single word on their paper. Putting them all together, the words are a message from Pennywise. He knows he has managed to bring them all home bar Stanley and his message taunts them before he unleashes a horrific vision on them that they all share together. All decide to leave Derry again that instant but Mike convinces Bill to come with him to his apartment where Mike has been researching Pennywise and his origins. Knowing that he will likely return, Mike has been looking into a way to kill him once and for all, to rid the world of Pennywise for good. And he believes he has found it. Managing to convince the others to stay, they set out on a plan to take the fight to Pennywise, to destroy him. All the while, Henry Bowers, the towns thug 27 years ago, the chief tormentor of The Losers Club and thought to be dead after being attacked by Pennywise is revealed to be alive in a mental institution. Pennywise has plans for him in his quest for revenge against the club and helps him escape and to make his way home.
Ok, let’s not beat around the bush and get the biggest problem the film has out in the open. The film is called IT. The main monster is Pennywise the clown. So why does the film hardly use him? He makes the odd appearance here and there and of course, turns up at the climax of the film but he’s used sparingly. You can understand that the film will focus on the main characters a bit more but to almost completely have your main protagonist not appear isn’t the way to go. When he does appear, Pennywise is once again the star of the show. Bill Skarsgard once again makes us believe that his character could be real, that he could be stalking all of us and still has the ability to shock and scare us.
And that’s another problem. The film just ISN’T scary. Many of the jump scares that the film contains are so telegraphed that you could mail them to the audience in advance. I expected to be scared out of my wits, to jump and to hear the audience scream in horror. And nothing. Apart from a few scenes that do genuinely shock, the film isn’t frightening at all. My 16-year-old niece refused to see the film as she is scared of clowns. Well, I can honestly say that she would be more scared of the Aligator film ‘Crawl‘ from earlier this summer. Now that’s how you make an audience jump and enjoy themselves doing it.
The films major scare scenes are in reality nothing to do with Pennywise at all. One is the aforementioned homophobic attack. The other is, to the filmmakers’ credit not ignored from the book, the domestic violence scene featuring Beverley and her husband/boyfriend/whatever. In the book, Beverley is subjected to horrific domestic violence almost daily until she finally snaps and fights back. Here it is contained within one scene only but it still has the power to shock and astound us. Again, the horror isn’t from the main protagonist but from a more human source. And to the film’s credit, it doesn’t shy away from the violence afflicted on Beverley. From the slap of a belt on her body to a punch straight to her face and being knocked flying onto a bed, the film is unrelenting. Again, a collective gasp went up from the audience at this point. Hopefully, scenes like these will affect the thinking of some of humanity. That violence and discrimination in any form is shocking and should never be tolerated.
The films almost three-hour length isn’t really a distraction as it seems to fly past with ease. You get so invested in the story and the characters that you don’t realise that the film is zipping past at a great pace. To be honest, the film needed the extended running time to fit in all the novels contents which it does quite well. To read my review so far, you could get the impression that I hated the film. I didn’t. I actually quite enjoyed it. It is a worthy sequel and is certainly worth catching at the movies if you can. It’s just a shame that the film could have been so much more than it actually is. The audience I saw it with was quite young whereas I am most certainly not! During the films extended climax, there is a scene that has been lifted almost entirely from ‘John Carpenter’s The Thing‘ including the classic line uttered by one character. Of course, the young audience didn’t get the in-joke but I myself did and couldn’t help but smile. Considering both films deal with something that can shapeshift, you could be forgiven to think this little in-joke would be merited. It isn’t. Although I found myself smiling, I also found myself inwardly cringing that the film had to resort to such an obvious lift from the 1982 horror classic to get a laugh. A laugh that from audiences not in the know, will not be forthcoming.
Humour does play a good part in the film, mainly thanks to an amazing performance from Bill Hader. Believe me, when the critics say his is the outstanding performance in the film, they are not lying to you. Hader is a revelation in his role as the older Ritchie, one that in my opinion deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination at next years Academy Awards at the very least. In an ideal world, he would win it but as long as he is nominated, then I think justice will be partly done. His banter with fellow actor James Ransone as the older Eddie is wonderful. In fact, all the actors are enjoyable as the older incarnations of their respective characters. James McAvoy plays the older Bill brilliantly, lining his portrayal of the character exactly alongside Jaeden Lieberher’s right down to Bill’s customary stammer. Jay Ryan nails it as Ben although at times he reminded me too much of eye candy for the ladies. Isaiah Mustafa is perfectly cast as Mike, giving a performance of genuine warmth and drawing the character out front and centre. And Jessica Chastain as Beverley tries hard to steal the show. She is extremely believable as the damaged older Beverley, beaten down, treated like dirt but a fighter who refuses to quit. However and this surprised me, she is upstaged by Sophia Lillis as the younger version of the character, confirming that Miss Lillis’ performance in the original wasn’t a fluke by any means. The rest of the cast do their jobs well including a nice cameo from Stephen King himself as a shop owner who hustles Bill for $300 for his old bike, silver. And despite his sidelining for the main part, Bill Skarsgard once again shows he will become a fantastic leading actor in years to come.
The film is bound to make a ton of money at the box office. Does it deserve to? It does deserve to make its money in my eyes. It’s not a bad film, far from it. It’s enjoyable and worthy of attention but don’t go in expecting to be completely blown away by it as you will come away disappointed. Are the film versions better than the TV mini serial? Debatable. Special effects-wise, of course, the answer is yes. Blood and gore wise, almost certainly. Pennywise? I make it a tie between Bill Skarsgard and Tim Curry. Entertainment wise? That is up to you to decide.
Some of the final scenes of the film will elicit memories of other King movie adaptations gone by and bring a sense of satisfaction and peace to the viewer. The direction is extremely good, the special effects and musical score are top-notch and the locations look wonderful. The film is visually a treat for the eyes. And I can’t believe I’m actually saying this but if I had my choice, I would see the film in IMAX. Yes, I normally never EVER recommend paying the extra money out to see a film in the format (Unless it’s Star Wars of course) but the scope and magnitude of what the film contains do deserve to be seen on a much bigger screen than normal.
At the start, I said a film is not a book. While I believe that the way the films have been presented to the audience is far superior to how the narrative of the book is set out, ultimately the book is superior to the movie version. Where the film will scare you for a short while after the end credits roll, the book will haunt you for many years to come. And not even a Pennywise induced hallucination can change that. Mores the pity.
Until next time.
IT: Chapter Two is distributed by Warner Bros. and is playing in cinemas now.
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Carl Roberts is a Senior Staff Writer and Books and Literature Correspondent for Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Indiana Jones and Horror movies. Follow him on Twitter @CarlRoberts2 where he uses the force frequently!