Does It Float?
By Jacob Bews
It Chapter 2 | Directed by Andy Muschietti | Horror | R | 2 H 50 MIN
The Losers are back in It Chapter 2, as they face off against the return of the surreal horror of Pennywise the clown. The story picks up 27 years later, the Losers are grown, relatively successful adults, who seem to mysteriously have forgotten their past battles and friendships in their hometown of Derry, Maine. Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) calls the Losers back to Derry to finish the task of putting down the ferocious Pennywise—then, all the memories, both the happy ones and the traumatic, begin to flood back.
The film is based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King. The book’s narrative is a back and forth between the Loser’s past and present, with the story of their childhood narrating in turns with their present. To adapt the book to film, the screenwriters chose to divide these simultaneous stories into two films: the first film following the Losers as kids, and It Chapter 2 following them as adults.
Andy Muschietti (director the first It (2017), and Mama (2013)) returns to direct It Chapter 2, along with screenwriter Gary Dauberman (of Annabelle (2014), Annabelle: Creation (2017), The Nun (2018) and Annabelle Comes Home (2019)). The style of these two filmmakers comes through in It Chapter 2, as the film feels like a modern horror work such as Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House (2018), Paranormal Activity (2007), or The Conjuring (2013)—replete with build up/payoff jump scares, complex sound design, and a reliance on typical ‘transgressive’ horror tropes (creepy old people, yucky disease man, etc.).
The second film boasts a nearly 3-hour runtime, 1 hour more than the first, which I felt quite heavily. The spectacle of the horror elements is dampened by the slow pace and long runtime of the film. Where I wanted to enjoy the hysterical insanity of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, I found myself bogged down, not only by the runtime, but also by the film’s ignorance of its own themes and narrative logic. To illustrate what I mean, I’ll look at what should’ve been a positive change for the film.
Taken from the novel, the opening scene features a hate-crime against a gay couple, which exemplifies Pennywise, who is tied at the roots to Derry, as a normative force which feeds on alienated people. As a departure from the novel, Richie (Bill Hader) is portrayed here as a closeted gay man, struggling with specific taunts from Pennywise (“I know your secret, your dirty little secret”) and the loss of the man he loved. The film does not close the thematic conflict from the opening of the film—the mob hatred of minorities, epitomized by the lynching scene—by having Richie own his identity in defiance of Pennywise (i.e. Derry) by showing that the Dancing Clown has no power over him, that the creature cannot use his sexuality against him, and so no one else can either. Rather, Richie stays silent. Richie never tells anyone, to the very end. A result which Derry, Pennywise, and the bullies would probably prefer. While Richie’s sexuality was (arguably) in the subtext prior to It Chapter 2, here it is the text, yet the filmmakers neglected to make this a meaningful change. What could’ve been an interesting and consequential departure from the book, becomes a superficial attempt at representation. Instead, I watched a film with a graphic hate-crime, and no attempt to address it, reducing it to shock value.
This issue with the film is only one piece of its baggage: Beverly’s (Jessica Chastain) central conflict is her relationship to men, and whether she will choose the right guy; Native American mysticism stereotypes which should have been left behind decades ago, and which reek of irresponsibility and indulgence on tired and racist horror tropes; and countless numbers of jokes at the expense of women, gay people, and fat people.
I really wanted to enjoy this film. There are attempts at sympathetic portrayals of the characters, at least. Most of the film, however, the characters felt more like vehicles to get from jumpscare to jumpscare. The humour does work at times, though mostly hit or miss. The chemistry between the Losers was mostly left behind in the last film, with each of the adults trying to act like their young counterparts, succeeding at times, but usually smelling of the awkwardness of 40 year olds repeating dated memes. Where their chemistry does return is in flashbacks to the young actors, with new scenes added from their pasts. The gory, fun, and amazing horror set-pieces, I found, were much overshadowed by its juvenile attitude towards the issues of oppression and societal violence that it brings up. It Chapter 2 remains unable to throw off the feeling of the filmmaker’s own ego, ignorance, and perceived reverence of a genre they claim to love.
You can reference The Thing all you like, but you can’t achieve the ambiguity, terror, and excellent pacing with superficial references.
It Chapter 2 has so much promise on which to float, but only manages to sink from its own overinflated ego.