So I’ve struggled with how to write this review, having seen the film almost a week ago I still haven’t written about it. Though I’ve been very active on Twitter and Facebook in my defence of it, a review requires a far more ordered sense of how I feel and it had been scattershot since I first saw this film. I’ve seen it twice now and had more of a chance to reflect on it and see it as a film rather than this monumental event that I had waited so long for. The first viewing was completely overwhelming, just as it was the first time I saw Chapter 1 and again I walked out unsure of my response because I’d been too busy ticking things off in my brain ie. “that was in the book, that wasn’t in the book” etc.
I am far more confident in my feelings about this film now.
To begin with, a caution – if you expect to see your average horror film you will walk away disappointed; this is not your James Wan formulaic jump scare-packed thrill ride, this is not something that can be summed up in a few lines or an hour and a half, this is a movie that wants to talk about how traumas damage us, the ripples they create in your life and the friends who help you through it; and it doesn’t care if it takes almost three hours to tell that story.
This film is epic and big and nuts and funny and moving and involving and mind-opening and challenging, pretty much everything I want a good film to be. I don’t want to walk away from a movie feeling nothing, there are many films that give me that; I love divisive films because those real emotions are what I actually paid for.
It’s been 27 years since the seven 13-year-old members of The Losers Club defeated Pennywise, or so they thought. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) stayed behind in Derry as a kind of watchman to ensure that what have been done stayed done. When it becomes clear that Pennywise is back (as indicated by his first big bloody kill of Adrian Mellon in a shockingly realistic homophobic hate crime that is as hard to watch as you’d imagine) its Mikes sad task to call the scattered losers and remind them of their promise to return should Pennywise ever rear his murderous head again.
They remember nothing on his initial phone call, but the return to Derry also means a return to their long-buried memories, and once they are back together in their hometown it all comes flooding back. To defeat this ancient evil Mike tells hem of a ritual that involves each loser finding a token of their lives when they first became bonded to each other. This leads to the walking tours fans will remember from the book in which some of the best set-pieces occur i.e. Mrs Kersch and also Eddies leper comes back for an encore performance, it all leads to another showdown with Pennywise.
Will he be bested or will he feast?
Well it’s no secret that this is the film I’ve waited for two years for but is it as anticipated?
I’m happy to say yes it most definitely is.
Everything here is done thoughtfully, firstly the casting which is undeniably perfect. Every actor brings their A game and match their younger counterparts characters in ways both subtle and large.
Much has been made of Bill Haders performance as Richie and yes it is as good as everyone says, the pathos he brings is invaluable to the story, he will make you laugh and break your heart. James Ransoone as Eddie could be young Jack Dylan Grazer as an adult they are so alike, he is sympathetic and a perfect match for Hader; their chemistry and banter feels effortless.
Jessica Chastain and James MacAvoy bring exactly as expected – perfection in their performance with a nice vulnerability that recalls the great work done by the younger cast. new cast members Andy Bean, Jay Ryan and the aforementioned Mustafa are all surprisingly good though I’ve never seen them in anything else, all three have a new fan in me.
The younger cast who feature in flashbacks that add new dimensions to the story we already know from Chapter one, all continue to do the stellar work we saw of them previously.
And what of Bill Skarsgaard as the titular Pennywise? The great performance in Chapter one is elevated here, he is nothing short of incredible and owns Pennywise. This is a performance for the ages and an iconic iteration of someone who will be remembered in the horror community for a very long time.
The direction by Andy Muschietti shows even more creativity this time around and barring a few questionable choices (Eddies puking leper’s song choice immediately springs to mind) it is assured, inspiring and the transitions between young and old cast members a delight.
Benjamin Wolfisch returns to add more nuance to his criminally underrated score from the first chapter and it’s used to great affect here as it was in Chapter one.
The CGI can be a little hit or miss particularly the de-ageing process that had to be employed in order to still have the younger cast members for the flashback scenes. If only the studios had trusted Chapter one to find an audience and had allowed the films to be shot back to back this wouldn’t have been an issue. It’s a shame because it does detract from some of the emotions felt and requires slightly more of a suspension of disbelief. The best moments of cgi include a homage to The Thing but a naked-faced Pennywise may be one of the creepiest moments of all.
But for me the thing that is most important in this film, the thing that makes it stand out from others, is its heart. I believed totally in every relationship explored in this film, I believe in their connection to each other, the easy care they feel foreach loser. The ultimate battle is not with Pennywise but with the baggage they have dragged about their whole lives from fears and traumas not faced, the things they tried to bury inside themselves.
The deaths here are more brutal than in Chapter one, and when children are killed, the heart of this film means it hurts more, and I like my horror to hurt.
The people who love the book should love this, the people who love the first one should also be happy.
This is a cult film in the making, and though there are naysayers now, eventually I’m sure they will understand that this film is unapologetically nothing but what it wants to be.
Films that buck the expected always end up finding a loving home, I’m thinking of films like Barry Munchhausen, Evil Dead and The Fifth Element, films that don’t follow a rule book.
Finally, a word on the runtime, some people have said this is too long. It is not. You can say that about The Hobbit as it was thin source material stretched to oblivion, this is a massive undertaking and could only be told over this length of time. It is absolutely not too long; in fact, I would’ve enjoyed another hour.
There are people who will hate this film, it’s earnest and wears its heart on its sleeve, it’s easy to denigrate films like that; but I got everything I wanted and more from this film. Beautiful, surprisingly honest, uncompromising, brave and memorable, this is a love letter to the novel fans.
I adored it and I thank Andy giving me the perfect interpretations of my favourite book.