“IT: Chapter 2” Horror Movie Review

The larger, less terrifying chapter. Return to Derry, Maine with the Losers Club as they once again face the nightmarish clown Pennywise. With expectations set incredibly high from the critical and box office success of the first chapter, chapter 2 had some major clown shoes to fill. And was it successful? That is mostly up to the individual audience members; however, from a critical perspective, the second chapter falls short of the first one in both character and plot. While there are some scary moments (mostly driven by jump-scares) and some good character-driven moments, as a whole, the movie feels bloated for time, poorly paced, unintentionally campy, and not nearly as creepy as the first one. Even though I did not question the run time when it was announced, there is not enough plot to effectively justify the nearly 3-hour length of the movie. For example, you spend about a third of the movie in flashbacks that do little to advance the plot but thankfully provide some additional context for the characters. Although the movie chronologically takes place 27 years after the first one, it has only been two years for us, but the second chapter plays out as a sequel that is many years separated from the original. Whereas I am not impressed by the plot, I am incredibly impressed with the outstanding casting. The resemblance that the adult characters have to the teenage characters is uncanny. Solid performances all the way around, although none stick out to me as outstanding. Had this movie been in the neighborhood of 2-2.25hrs, then I believe that there would have been enough plot; but as it is, it was stretched too thin. I appreciated the original for expertly crafting the atmosphere of dread and delivering terrifyingly creepy moments not primarily reliant upon jump-scares; but this second chapter seems to fall victim to sequelitis and revert to using jump-scares more than the art of crafting suspense with the camera. At the end of the day, this is a fun way to kick off your Halloween season, but perhaps this isn’t THE movie that defines the Halloween horror season. Still, if you’re planning to attend Halloween Horror Nights Orlando or Hollywood, then this will still suffice as a solid way to kick off the season.

It’s been 27 years since the Losers Club thought they defeated IT. But Pennywise has returned to the sleepy town of Derry. Following the occurrences several mysterious missing children and teenagers and a Pennywise sighting, Mikey calls all his old friends back to Derry, with little explanation as to why, other than IT has returned. The group of old friends must band together and face their respective fears, past traumas, and deepest darkest secrets that have been eating away at them all these years.

If Derry was supposed to be characterized as a backwards town, then this movie does its job. I don’t think that anyone is going to desire to visit the quaint town steeped in death and bigotry. The opening of the movie is shocking, hooking you into the twisted world that is Derry, Maine. Unfortunately, the provocative opening feels largely disconnected from the rest of the  movie, except it serves to forcibly position Mikey in a place from where he sees Pennywise has returned to his hometown. The next sequence of scenes shows us the present lives of the members of the Losers Club and the reactions to the news that IT may not have been dead after all. Every one of the members of the Losers Club except for Mikey left the small town and built successful winning careers for themselves. Once the Losers Club is back together again, all hell breaks loose in the sleepy hamlet throws its worst at them. One of the disadvantages of one chapter having child actors and another chapter adult actors (portraying the same characters) is the increased risk of there being a disconnect between the audience and the characters. Moreover, that disconnect can affect the audience in such a way that the degree of empathy felt for a character mitigates. That is the case with IT Chapter 2. Since much of the character development was in Chapter One with the child actors, we are thrown back into this world with different actors and simply do not ultimately care deeply what happens to the characters. We care, but not as much as if we followed the same actors or we were provided with sufficient character development in this chapter. We simply don’t care enough about these characters (played by these incredible actors).

One of the cardinal rules of screenwriting that I feel IT Chapter 2 broke was allowing the flashback to encroach upon, if not become more interesting than the main story. Until a writer knows how to effectively use flashbacks, it is important to stay away from them because flashback abuse is all too easy. Few movies that make significant use of the flashback have done so in such a way the the stories are just as interesting as each other or make the main story even more intriguing. My go-to example of a film that makes brilliant use of flashbacks is the Americana classic Fried Green Tomatoes. The reason why flashbacks work in that movie is because both the stories from the past and present are just as interesting as one another; furthermore, the characters in the past help us to develop the characters in the present. Character development is strong all the way around, and the characters mirror one another in many respects. In short, the main plot is always moving forward, even the flashbacks provide direction for the main story. Unfortunately, the prolific use of flashbacks in IT: Chapter 2, come off as a lazy plot device that serves to drag down the pacing of the main story. In fact, there are so many flashbacks that are misused that it adds a signifiant amount of run time to the movie that could have been cut out to streamline the plot. Had there not been such a large sum of flashbacks, then the story may have exhibited better pacing and not felt so bloated just to be a nearly 3hr movie.

Seems like everyone wants to be a 3hr movie nowadays. The problem therein is that, in all likelihood, there lacks sufficient plot to cover three hours. It’s important for a writer to not only show scenes of characters facing conflict, but the writer needs to show the character’s reaction to the conflict. Much like with a screenplay as a whole, a well-written scene has a setup–conflict–resolution. This movie is often missing the resolution in the individual scenes. I still don’t know why we have the date gone wrong at the beginning of the movie other than to make the statement that this movie seeks to normalize that which should be seen as normal or that this is a progressive movie. Furthermore, we make the assumption from Chapter 1 that Richie is gay and even see some evidence to suggest it further in Chapter 2 as this is the deep dark secret that has been eating away at him for most of his life. Richie’s character-driven subplot and the opening scene could have been helped by including the scene from the book in which Bowers explores his sexuality with a friend because that would setup the inner conflict and denial that manifests itself in his treatment of Richie and violent behavior towards others. However, we never revisit this–what could’ve been an excellent–character moment. I think it’s great to have a diverse, inclusive cast of characters, but don’t start a subplot or setup character development that will go nowhere or is merely a plot device to explain something.

While horror movies are no strangers to camp, both literally and figuratively, this movie is unintentionally campy. A campy movie is one that intentionally contains extreme or perverse imagery that boasts an amusing quality that uses exaggerated genre or thematic tropes that over-emphasize an element of the movie. Camp is intentional. When camp is accidental, there is the chance that the director can capture lightning in a bottle, but that is not usually the cade. IT: Chapter 2 is not campy in the costuming, production design, or dialogue, but in the oversized monsters throughout the movie. From the giant old naked lady with her saggy boobs to the random Paul Bunyan statue coming to life, there are giant monsters seemingly everywhere. And it’s not simply the presence of the monsters, although I thought it reached ridiculous proportions, but the movement and purpose of them is what I call into question. The small creatures were great, but the large ones were not terrifying at all–more like laughable. Other than the initial jump scare, the monsters don’t help the level of terror at all.

Now, there is one scene in particular that is probably the scariest of all, and it’s the scene that takes place under the bleachers. I won’t go into spoilers. With all these monstrous creatures and jump-scares, the movie lacks in the same atmosphere of dread that made the first one work so incredibly well. It’s the little things that were scariest in the original. Speaking of the little things, Pennywise definitely stepped up his game in this one. There are so many nuances to his character and the performance that are terrifying–especially for those with a phobia of clowns. If any element is just as good, if not improved over chapter one, it is Pennywise, expertly portrayed by Bill Skarsgard.

Even though you may have to set your expectation bar a little lower, compared to the original, in order to best experience this horror movie, a true horror fan will still enjoy the movie. Perhaps not as much as the original, but it’s still a solid way to start the Halloween horror season. Speaking of which, Halloween Horror Nights Orlando and Hollywood open up this weekend! Consider starting with or pairing your theme park haunts with this movie.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa and teaches high school TV/Film production. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com!

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“IT” (2017) film review

IT’s hauntingly fantastic! From the first to the last scene, the Stephen King adaptation directed by Andres Buschietti is nothing less than a horror masterpiece that does both the original novel and the TV mini series (1990) justice. The brilliance behind the adaptation is found in the excellent cast. So organic, so relatable. A common trope in King novels (and by extension the movie adaptation) is the tried and true narrative structure of the “coming of age” story. Although Stand By Me typifies the “coming of age” subgenre, IT may serve as a horror film for shock value on the outside; but beneath the nightmare-inducing exterior, beats the heart of a heavy drama with a great message about growing up, friendship, teamwork, and facing one’s fears. Few horror films reach iconic status, but this one is surely destined to be counted among films like: The Shining, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and others. For all the previous King adaptations, Buschietti may have directed the best adaption we have ever seen. Kubrick’s The Shining may still win the award for most artistic and cinematic; however, 2017’s IT takes the words from the pages and successfully translates them to the silver screen along with impressive set design, special/practical effects, and a blood curdling score.

Derry, Maine may seem like a picturesque idealistic version of Americana, but it has a problem. Every couple of decades, children and teenagers vanish without a trace. After Georgie disappears while playing with a paper boat in the rain, his brother Billy (Jaeden Lieberher) becomes determined to solve the mystery and find his brother. Met with opposition from his father, Billy teams up with his long-time friends Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), and new friends Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) to unravel the mystery surrounding the town of Derry. In their wildest nightmares, no one could have anticipated the evil that lies beneath the streets, in the dank sewers of the Maine hamlet. When faced with what terrifies each of them the most, the group of young people must band together in order to conquer their fears and destroy Pennywise, the evil dancing clown (Bill Skarsgard).

The local movie theatre’s marquee displays Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 5; and the fact it is that particular film serves a more important purpose than simply to establish the period (which it does brilliantly, by the way). That particular movie is quite symbolic, and in many ways, parallels the events that unfold in Derry, Maine. Both Nightmare and IT take place in small towns; and furthermore, the ensemble cast is comprised of young people who must face fears and band together in order to conquer the evil that threatens their very lives. Although this version of Pennywise is a little less playful than the iconic original Tim Curry Pennywise, the dancing killer clown has a very Freddy Kruger quality about him. Many of the qualities that aid in (in my opinion) making Freddy the most terrifying of all the classic slashers and icons, is his playful attitude followed by moving in for the kill in a very showman way. Both Pennywise and Freddy are born out of and prey upon deep childhood fears and quite literally become the manifestation of the evil in the world. As such, there are many reasonable ways for IT: Chapter 1 to spawn several sequels in the same way that A Nightmare on Elm Street did.

As nightmarish as the majority of the movie is, it does struggle here and there to connect all the scenes together whilst maintaining a solid rhythm. The overall sense of dread is carried through for the most part, but there are times that the film fails to increase the level of anxiety which could have been accomplished by spending more time in Derry’s history and the traumas and secrets that were buried over the decades. I would have liked to have seen the sewers that the kids search through be more symbolic of the very plumbing that transports the deep seeded fears that are ignored or flushed away by the people of Derry. IT certainly accomplishes its goal of being a high quality horror film but it falls short of going as deep as it could have. The overall experience of the film rivals that of other great horror films that have gained iconic status. Greatly contributing to this success is the balance between establishing nostalgic connections between it, the original IT, and the audience members, and the excellent 21st century hair-raising effects. The relatable cast seems to have been taken right out of Netflix’ Stranger Things, and will work wonders for attracting a younger audience who may not be familiar with the novel or original mini series.

There are two films in IT: the horror film and dark drama. Both are well executed but have a few flaws in the nearly perfect recipe. It’s both a nostalgic coming-of-age story and a Wes Craven Freddy-like slasher. Having an ability to be a dark drama masquerading around as a horror film will do very nicely at the box office. Perhaps if this film were a little more like Nightmare and we saw a little less of Pennywise, he would be more terrifying. As it stands, the more we see Pennywise, the less scary he becomes. Still, he is pretty terrifying! Buschietti may not wind up with the same cache as Kubrick, Hitchcock, or Craven, but he has emulated much of what the aforementioned masters of suspense, terror, and horror pioneered many years ago.

One thing’s for sure, this is a great way to kick off the Halloween season of films! After a mostly lackluster August, I am glad that the cinema is bustling with great films to see. IT this week, Mother next week, followed by the remake of Flatliners, September is shaping up to be a terrifyingly brilliant month for films. Should you choose to venture to Derry, Maine this weekend, you won’t be disappointed with the remake of a classic. If you really want to have some fun, bring along a friend who has a phobia of clowns.