by Arnór H. Wikström
There’s not a lot that hasn´t already been said about this film, so I won’t pretend I have any kind of unique take. I´ll just review it out of my own experience.
I have a nine year old stepdaughter who absolutely loves cinema. Her dream is to become a film maker, and she loves watching movies of all genres. Even horror. Despite her young age, horror films do not scare her much, though she definitely got quite chilled while watching the American remake of The Ring.
The first real horror movie she saw was 2017’s IT: Chapter 1, so as soon as trailers for the sequel started rolling in, I knew she had to see it as her first theatrical horror experience.
Here in Sweden, the age limit for an R-rated film is 15, or 11 in the company of an adult, but when it came time to check our tickets, the usher hardly glanced at her.
So, armed with a giant tub of popcorn, we sat down in the dark to watch a horror film. As this was her first time watching an R-rated film at the cinema, she was completely mesmerized by the trailer that preceded it. Wall to wall violence. She’s never seen a proper action movie, so here she got her first glimpses into a hitherto untapped genre.
IT2 opens with a very brutal scene, depicting very real contemporary hate crime violence, setting a tone of grit that never really returns to the film again. The horror in that scene is not supernatural, but very real and heartbreaking. I have seen some voices be vocal about this scene, saying that, even though it’s present in the source novel, it feels misplaced in this movie.
Well, they’re not wrong. It does feel a bit out of place, but when you look at what Stephen King’s IT is about, and what themes he often strews among his works, it’s very much in the King spirit. The first IT also tells the story of vicious bullying, as the Losers Club are relentlessly harassed by a bully called Henry Bowers. If we look at IT2, not as a standalone film, but as the second part of a long film, the opening suddenly makes much more sense. We are being reminded that Derry isn’t just a cute little town being beset by evil forces; the town itself is fundamentally broken. It’s a dreadful place. An absolute rural American hellhole shitburg, full of awful people that treat each other like shit.
Derry is such a recurring place in King’s work, that the town almost has a character of its own. It’s a cursed place, from top to bottom, be it the monsters that besiege it, or the people living in it, nobody’s happy, and everyone yearns to leave.
The opening scene seems to say to us “Welcome back to Derry, people. This place sucks, with or without cosmic demon clowns”.
And speaking of cosmic demon clowns, if you came to see Pennywise, you might leave the theatre disappointed. Bill Skarsgård’s iconic jester gets roughly 10 out of the films 170 minutes, but that also helps make his appearances memorable, since too much of him could easily prove tedious. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a constant barrage of creepy stuff going on. We must remind ourselves that Pennywise The Dancing Clown is just the favorite form of a much more complex being. An almost omniscient hell-beast that thrives on fear and can take on any form it wishes.
The almost three hour runtime blows past unnoticed, as there is always something going on onscreen, raging from silly to scary to gory to funny to dramatic to sad to heartfelt to empowering to nauseating. Crying baby-faced flies hatched from fortune cookies, and zombie heads bobbing around a fish tank might not scare you, but it sure as hell will entertain you, and the chemistry between the lead cast is so strong it really makes you believe that these are the same kids you saw in the first movie, and that they really know and love each other. Just like in the first movie, the character of Richie Tozier owns every single scene he’s in, whether he’s played by Finn Wolfhard or Bill Hader. James McAvoy can pull off desperately terrified to such a degree that you can’t help but feel for him. Jessica Chastain and Jay Ryan echo their child counterparts remarkably well, which says something about the acting of Jay Ryan, as older Ben Hanscom is purposely meant to not resemble the younger one too much as he’s supposed to have gone through a tremendous physical transformation since childhood. Then there’s Isaiah Mustafa as brooding ringleader Mike, and James Ransone as the hypochondriac Eddie, who sometimes serves as second comic relief to Bill Hader’s Richie.
The movie is full of Easter eggs for the Stephen King diehards. There’s a recurring joke about people generally liking James McAvoy character Billy’s books, but that he can’t write endings, a common criticism directed towards Stephen King, and especially towards otherwise acclaimed source novel IT. The joke is made even funnier when a very special cameo performer gets to take part in it.
The film also recalls The Shining, Christine, Carrie, Stand By Me, and pays homage to other classic works of horror not penned by Stephen King.
The monsters in the film can seem downright goofy, as the character designs seem to take certain details a step too far, and in doing so cross the line from scary to plain weird. This problem was already present in the first film, with the leper and the lady in the picture both being just a bit too off on their details to be completely scary. However, the movie relies heavily on the element of surprise, and you never know just what the hell is going to come bursting out of the darkness next. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The jump scares are not many, but still quite efficient, and I admit that I jumped in my seat on a couple of occasions. I’m usually not a big fan of jump scares, as they often kill the creepiness of a film, but since IT2 has already given creepy up for the sake of weird and extreme, you find yourself being pleasantly startled at times.
As foreshadowed many times throughout the film, the ending is vastly different from the book. This is a good thing, as the book’s ending involves friendly cosmic turles and eleven year olds having a sewer orgy. Even though I found the way they thwarted the villain to be a bit silly anyway, it still plays well with the overarching theme of the movie. A theme of friendship and love, and sticking together as a team. Wholesome stuff. Stephen King is hella wholesome (and over time he himself has also gotten better at writing endings).
I probably enjoyed the movie a bit more than I might have done on my own, since I was also seeing it through the imaginative eyes of my kid. As and adult with plenty of experience watching horror, I could easily roll my eyes all the random over-the-top shark-jumping, but The IT movies play out like adventure movies. A rag-tag group of friends out on a mission to stop a chaotic magic evil. Like a gory Goonies, or an ET full of murders. So if you’re like me, and want to introduce your kid to the glorious world of horror movies, the IT movies are a perfect place to start, and I promise that there’s a lot of fun to be had if you lower your most critical glasses and decide to roll with the punches. It’s (pun intended) the perfect family horror film.
I can’t wait to marathon these movies with my stepdaughter in the near future.
🎈🎈🎈out of 🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈