I was always a fan of the original TV adaptation of the book, a mixture of low budgetary shocks and scares faithful to a certain extent to its source material with a memorable performance from Tim Curry as the villainous Pennywise the Clown. In 2017 the first chapter of this two part series released to critical acclaim and praise, a higher budget presentation of this horror novel, opting to focus solely on the children’s journey and experiences instead of the split narrative. As a choice, it separated the movie from both the book and TV adaptation and was a strong movie in its own right with a memorable cast that brought these characters to life, certainly as strong as those historically cast. My main curiosity around this sequel was whether it would opt to pursue this narrative approach and focus entirely on the adult cast and their struggles against the returning clown. In short no, to my surprise it instead chose to follow a similar transitionary approach as featured in the books alternating perspectives between the child and adult casts. With a healthy does of frights and jump scares, a questionable reliance on CGI monsters and effects and a more traditional concluding narrative its a film that succeeds but perhaps doesn’t quite live up to the promise and ambition of the first film.
The biggest problem that plagues the film is a sense of lethargy and a truly fragmented and disjointed pacing issue that resonates across its entire run time. Without the benefit of a longer run time, and in truth the entirety of both chapters is sizable in its own right, certain plot elements are accelerated or bypassed entirely before slowing down to focus on character development points. In the original adaptation, the adults were introduced in the first chapter and afforded a greater opportunity to develop, here, the momentum felt rushed with only the most base characteristics of each individual touched upon before accelerating on their departure and return to Derry. Why I enjoyed the original and novel’s structure arose because it allowed you to view the impact and explore the theme of suppression through mystical means or otherwise of traumatic events as children being carried into adulthood. With only a brief introduction, it felt forced but no sooner had they arrived back home the pacing slowed down and returned to a more traditional speed, pacing, not a highlight of this movie experience but forgivable to some degree. There was a certain sense of duality that permeates throughout the film, the adults rushing towards their destiny to confront Pennywise whilst the children have opportunity to shape and reveal the cause of this drive through the use of scenes that fit into and expand upon the events in the original movie.
The chemistry amongst the children is as endearing and strong as that in the first film, in contrast to longer form media such as Stranger Things featuring a similar age demographic in parts it does feel ‘forced’ however you do sense a camaraderie between these kids, these losers. Similarly, the adult cast does well to capture and emulate similar beats and traits from their counterparts, the ribbing between Richie and Eddie provides some of the best comic relief in the moments of terror with a few notable and fun call backs to moments in the first film and indeed popular culture from the setting of the first film. Only small details but you do have to remember the setting of the story was pulled forward and shifted to ensure the adults narrative is set during the current day, as such when Richie is exploring the movie theatre and arcade, there are a number of movie posters in the background faded and damaged over the years that are fun to pick up. I enjoyed the scenes of the kids and adults together respectively, the interaction and dialogue is sharp however the movie does suffer when they go their separate ways. A large extent of the films middle section involves the adults splitting up on a personal quest which not only slows down the narrative but suffers from revealing very little or new information or purpose from what we already knew. It changes the timing and placement of certain scenes in contrast to the novel and original adaptation that personally didn’t work or have as big an impact. As an example that was featured in the trailer when Bev returns to her father’s apartment, originally this takes place before she meets her friends at the Chinese restaurant embedding that sense of isolation and fear before drawing strength from her companions. Here, she had already had her moment of bonding, the timing of the scene serves little purpose other than to provide a momentary scare.
The film and novel is of course centred around a central premise of a character that draws strength and feeds upon the fear of children, conceivably the purest fear for a creature of this type to absorb. In the novel and indeed throughout both adaptations of this source this takes the form of the beings and fears most personal to the characters, notably with Stan a painted figure that emerges in his father’s study. Whatever restraint or constrictions in the first film seem to have evaporated in this sequel, a plethora of creatures and threats reliant on digital effects that in part work but others, not so much. The menace of the clown was always the implied threat, driving the characters to absolute fear before feeding on them. You barely sense that implied menace here, with digital creations that seem lifted from a Sam Raimi or Wes Anderson film. Certainly in contrast to the original adaptation the ending felt more solid and faithful to the source material but equally, the transition from practical to digital effect just doesn’t hold the same threat towards the cast. The best moments of the clown came for me in the haunted house scene with a few clever uses of mirrors and misdirection to create a real sense of menace to Bill. I’ll readily accept digital effects in moderation or where required, however as with the notion of the uncanny valley, when the digital creations lose believability to the viewer it breaks whatever sense of immersion you had in the experience. As such, practical effects still triumph, here especially.
Having seen both iterations and read the original novel, I do have to say structurally I do feel this movie series suffered from the direction it took. Both in the novel and original version it portrayed the narrative of the story from the perspective of the adults receiving that first call and piecing together aspects of their memories they had forgotten to remember the events that had occured. Here, in contrast to Part One with the entire focus on the children it left little time to allow the adult cast to tell their chapters of this novel, and with a return to the duel narratives even less so with the adult thread rushed in part whilst allowing the children’s chapters space to breath and grow from what we had seen come before. I enjoyed the more traditional approach used and how well it complemented the original novel, as such, this Chapter certainly felt more faithful to how the story played out, perhaps removing some of the shock moments of surprise for those who knew what was coming. In Chapter One, it was fun to be in the dark when Bev was taken by Pennywise, you knew she played an important role and would feature in this movie and as such seem protected by ‘plot armour’ to ensure she reach adulthood. And yet it was a change of direction. In this sequel, no such luck, with certain threads removed entirely, it was comforting to see what was brought to life but with a sense of remorse what was left behind.
I did enjoy this sequel and concluding chapter to this latest iteration of IT and the Stephen King universe brought to life. Whilst I will readily admit to being a huge fan of the original television version and still profess to liking Tim Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise, it is always enjoyable when one of your favourite novels is given such attention with a lot of backing to actually bring this book to life in such a graphic and macabre way. Given the success of the first part, whilst a subjective observation you can’t help but feel perhaps this movie was in need of editing and some directorial control to balance the pacing issues which permeate the entire run time. There is a great deal of padding and bloat to the experience, the opening chapters rushed through before grinding to a halt with no real moments of development or discourse to celebrate or remember once the end credits appeared. A joke runs throughout the movie about poor endings, I wouldn’t necessarily say this version had a bad ending nor is it necessarily a bad movie. Overall I enjoyed myself, the children’s cast had the same endearing bond between them that felt genuine and earned at this point and really a shame there is no reason for them to continue their adventures of the losers club. For the most part I enjoyed the humour of the adults and you do envision or wonder what might have happened to them after the events of IT. The shared cinematic approach to films in recent years has allowed audiences to indulge more freely in those thoughts with characters appearing in shared or complimentary projects, though having read a number of his novels, the connections are never that explicit.
The films use of the adult cast and a return to the intercutting narrative of the book and original adaptation was a welcome treat and certainly cemented the heart and theme of the story beyond the horror of these losers coming together and through that common bond of companionship and unity overcoming their fears and ultimately succeeding into adulthood. The base story of the clown representing the epitome of those fears was well told if slightly underwhelming. I can’t recall a single moment or event that I can point to where I felt disconnected, only to contrast to the original adaptation where the clown’s appearance was less forthcoming, certainly a visible threat but having far less screen time in contrast to this version and as such a lot of the fear and anxiety was based on the villain in the shadows. Which is to say, less is more, in this movie, less certainly would have been more with a number of the monsters easily removed and a greater focus on the implied threat and challenge ahead which would have built nicely to the films conclusion. We crawl towards the eventual confrontation before a disjointed and chaotic closing chapter which hints towards the broader nature of the beast as described in the novel but surprisingly doesn’t pull the trigger on the final cataclysmic fate of Derry. An enjoyable ensemble movie, some memorable practical thrills and menace but an issue with pacing stops this being a classic end to this iteration of Pennywise the Clown.
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