The second epic act of director Andrew Muschietti’s filming of Stephen King’s novel is too long (at 169 minutes) and FX-stuffed, but the cast and their beloved characters keep it honest and, yes, mildly terrifying.
King was consulted about the script, added a few details (screenwriter Gary Dauberman was very pleased) and turned up to do his usual dry cameo, and the result is amongst the most faithful filmings of one of his books ever, despite some slightly silly CG craziness.
We open in Derry, Maine, back in September 1989 with the teen ‘Losers Club’ of Part 1 promising that they’ll all return if ‘It’ comes back, and we know that ‘It’ is an ancient evil that manifests mostly in the form of a leering clown played, under the make-up and FX, by Bill Skarsgård. There are seven of them: haunted Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Martell); bullied Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor); smart-mouthed Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard from Netflix’s Stranger Things); hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer); fearful Stanley Uris (Wyatt Uris); misunderstood Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs); and, of course, the psychologically-abused Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis, who’s really gone places in the last two years). And they think they’ll always be friends.
Flashforward 27 years and the adult Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), who never left town, realises that Pennywise is back after a string of mysterious killings, and he brings the group back together, as they vowed. And they’re all troubled and tainted by past events they can barely remember, and include: the still-guilty Bill (James McAvoy), a stand-in for King as a horror writer who had a bad movie made of one his books; Ben (Jay Ryan, who doesn’t look at all like his youthful form), a hunky but lonely architect; Richie (Bill Hader), a queasy comedian; Eddie (James Ransone), a harried exec; Stanley (Andy Bean), a positive wreck; and Bev (Jessica Chastain from Muschietti’s Mama), who’s driven to rise up against her violent husband (who took the place of her violent Dad).
They return in various states of bafflement and terror and proceed to have individual encounters with Pennywise, who (which?) seems both glad and afraid to have them all back in town, and adopts a number of bizarre forms that suffer from looking too CG-ish (screaming ghouls with multi-mouths, a long-tongued thingamajig, a severed head with crab legs straight out of John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing). And yet, somehow, they’re often pretty scary anyway, because we like the imperilled characters so much.
Pennywise also helps the psychopathic Henry Bowers (now disturbingly played by Teach Grant) escape from a psychiatric institution, and he becomes a sort of knife-wielding Renfield (from Dracula) figure, and yet another source of menace.
As with Part 1, the chief problem here is that we see too much of the many freaky faces of Pennywise, and in the daylight too, which leaves you wondering whether this would have worked (or even have been made?) if Skarsgård’s monster was to remain a more shadowy, intangible, barely-glimpsed figure. Instead, he’s (it’s?) so much right there and close-up and centre stage that something is lost – and, at least once, you can see that Bill is obviously wearing a rubber scalp and wig too. Oops.
Regardless, and again, this is all about the characters, and the adult Losers (who mix and morph with the past and their former selves at important moments) are all very strong, with Hader particularly good as the snarky Richie, who once more grows to become a fighter, and Chastain at her best as Bev, who more than once saves several of the guys from supernatural danger.
Yes, it is too long, but it’s a fitting end to this filming of what was one of Stephen King’s longest books, which is really saying something. It was almost as long as The Stand, which is also being filmed again too. As is Doctor Sleep, the longtime-coming sequel to The Shining. Oh, and The Reach, In The Tall Grass, Here There Be Tygers, a TV version of The Dark Tower, another shot at the Tommyknockers, The Talisman (his collaboration with Peter Straub), Sleeping Beauties (his collaboration with his son Owen), and so many others.
Hail to the King indeed.
It Chapter 2 (MA) is in cinemas now