There’s a moment about halfway through It: Chapter Two that displays in microcosm one of the major faults of the film. Beverly (Jessica Chastain) has returned to her childhood apartment, where she’s having a nervous cup of tea with the current owner, an elderly woman. After the woman says something creepy, the camera lingers on her vacant, smiling face for a full ten seconds. It’s so long that you actually want to tap grandma on the side of the head to see if she’s broken. The shot would have been just as effective at half the length, it’s a predictable creep-out tactic, it would have worked better if the scene hadn’t been given away almost in full during the teaser trailer, and Jessica Chastain still manages to sell the hell out of it.
Kill It: Volume Two pickes up 27 years after the end of the previous film. After defeating the supernatural entity known as It, all seven members of the Losers Club have left the town of Derry, Maine, except Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), who’s now the town librarian. When brutal murders start happening again, Mike calls the Losers back to defeat It again, this time for good. The Losers discover that they not only need to face a literal demon from their past but several metaphorical ones, as well.
WARNING: THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN MILD SPOILERS!
It: You’ll Float 2 telegraphs exactly what kind of film it is during the first 30 minutes, which for a film as excessively long as this one (almost 3 hours), amounts to less of a first act and more of an extended prologue. The film opens with a graphic homophobic assault and chases it down with spousal abuse, an attempted rape, and a bathtub suicide. If they’d just included a scene of a puppy being kicked, they could have had a trigger warning royal flush. It’s another one of the film’s major problems: “a relentless atmosphere of dread and horror that eventually becomes wearying and tedious.
Little of the horror here could actually be called frightening. I’ll give you macabre. Unsettling. Even disturbing. But outright terrifying? Not really. Arguably, the most effective supernatural moment is during the Losers’ reunion dinner when they get back to Derry, as their meal starts turning into a host of horribly disfigured and dismembered nightmare creatures. It’s one of the moments when the film leans hard into the Lovecraftian nature of It in a major way, and it’s wickedly effective in the moment. But this kind of thing rarely happens again, with most of It’s torments afterward resembling something out of a lower-tier Silent Hill game or…well, any other Stephen King adaptation, really.
Although it should be said that the rendering of all those moments is mostly above reproach. The CGI is phenomenal here, with all of It’s various forms equally disturbing in their tactile solidity and design. A lot of effort and skill went into making the creatures and beasts of the film look as good as possible, and it shows. Few match the sheer sanity-check incongruity of Bill Skarsgård’s physical performance and appearance as the demonic clown Pennywise, but they come awfully close.
The film can’t really be faulted for its audio/visual style in general. Director Andy Muschietti knows how to frame a scene and mostly knows how to shoot set pieces that are at least captivating if not outright heart-stopping. He occasionally does linger on scenes a bit too long, though, and that tendency morphs from humorous to annoying very quickly. Still, he strikes and choreographs his moments well, and each scene flows fairly easily into the next, helped by Benjamin Wallfisch’s evocative, vibrant score. It amounts to some very solid genre moments if not particularly transcendent ones.
What Muschietti seriously needed, though, was an editor. Dear gods. My kingdom for an editor. The original novel is nearly 1,200 pages long, and even though writer Gary Dauberman removed a great deal of extraneous story beats and most of the more outrageously fantastical elements of the narrative, he didn’t go nearly far enough. A subplot involving a character from the first film returning as an agent of It’s violence goes nowhere and ultimately means nothing, wasting a good 15 minutes of screen time. The final battle with It also drags on to the point of absurdity, seeming to cycle through the same beats and movements like a broken record. Some of the choices for what to leave in and what to take out — never mind the things that got added in — are outright bizarre.
The thing that keeps the film going, despite its length and lack of genuine scares, is its cast. The adult Losers are uniformly well-cast and on-point, not only capturing the essence of the child characters from the first film but in most cases their physical likeness, as well. Nearly everybody gets a chance to shine here, and it’s hard to pick out a top performer when you have consistent, talented actors like James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, and James Ransone. But the MVP is Bill Hader as Richie, played by Finn Wolfhard in flashbacks. Hader is in top form as the resident wise-cracker, a role he was pretty much genetically designed to play, but he handles the drama and horror elements extremely well, too. Richie gets one of the most dynamic character arcs of all the Losers, and even if it never lands at the end the way it should (an issue that can only be discussed after giving away major spoilers), he steals literally every scene he’s in.
The Losers actually end up pulling a bit of focus away from Bill Skarsgård’s dedicated performance as Pennywise, but that ends up being not entirely a bad thing. This is much more their story than Chapter One was, and the characters are less reactive and more proactive this time around. But they could have been a little more proactive and wrapped the film up faster. By the time they finally confront It, you kind of just want the film to be over and done with because, by that point, if you aren’t scared, you won’t be.
There’s an excellent film hidden in It: Chapter Two, but it’s surrounded by excess narrative baggage and drowned in thousands of gallons of gratuitous fake blood. It doesn’t sink, but it doesn’t necessarily float, either.
FBOTU Score: 6 out of 10 / B-