Back in 2017, nobody would have predicted the big-screen version of Stephen King’s It ended up as a huge box-office hit. As in raking a worldwide total of US$700.4 million against a moderate US$35 million budget. And what’s even more surprising is the movie manages to finally overtake M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense (1999) as currently the highest-grossing Hollywood horror film of all-time. Not bad for a movie that was originally plagued with troubled production history.
Of course, given the tremendous success of the first movie, it comes to no surprise that hopes are high for It Chapter Two. Set 27 years after the events of the first movie, the preteen members of the Losers’ Club from the sleepy town of Derry have since grown up as adults (James McAvoy’s Bill Denbrough, Jessica Chastain’s Beverly Marsh, Jay Ryan’s Ben Hanscom, Bill Hader’s Richie Tozier, Isaiah Mustafa’s Mike Hanlon, James Ransone’s Eddie Kaspbrak and Andy Bean’s Stanley Uris) and live their separate lives. Then along came an important phone call that eventually brought them back to Derry, as they face their demons to defeat Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) once and for all.
In the first chapter of It, director Andy Muschietti did a great job balancing genuine scare with a solid Spielbergian-style coming-of-age story while packing enough nostalgic value of the 1980s era. No doubt that following up from such a critically and financially successful first movie would be a huge undertaking, even with the same director on board. Just ask James Wan and you could see the varying results between his first Conjuring and its less-than-stellar sequel.
The same can be said with It Chapter Two, as Muschietti tries his best to throw everything he could to raise the stakes. The kind that rhymed with “more” and “bigger” commonly associated with most studio-backed sequels. Except for the result here is somehow mixed while lacking the same pacey momentum seen in the first movie. Blame it on the movie’s lengthy 169 minutes that tends to overstay its welcome and could have benefited with a tighter pace. Some scenes are either rushed (the first act involving the hasty introduction of the adult Losers quickly came to mind) or somewhat repetitive (the second act where they force to split up and locate their respective artifacts for a later ritual to defeat Pennywise). If only Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman spent more time establishing the adult characters of the Losers’ Club and provide them with better chemistry just like they did with the kids in the first movie, the result would have been better than expected.
Then, there’s the final third act where Muschietti’s go-for-broke direction of amping up all sorts of bizarre and creepy visuals is more of a hit-and-miss affair. Personally, I didn’t find the ending is as impactful as I hoped for. And this largely has to do with Muschietti’s overwhelming decision of employing too many special effects during most of the horror setpieces that rarely feels scary or intimidating.
As for the cast, it’s a pity that Bill Skarsgård’s antagonist portrayal of Pennywise is mostly lost in a sea of elaborate special effects. No doubt a far cry from what he did in the first movie two years ago. The adult Losers, in the meantime, mostly gave individually adequate performances with the exception of Bill Hader’s scene-stealing performance as Richie Tozier, who is undoubtedly the movie’s MVP. Kudos also go to James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain, who both deserved equal praises for their respective roles as Bill Denbrough and Beverly Marsh.
Despite the shortcomings, Muschietti still able to stage a few effective moments over the course of this second and final chapter. This include scenes where James McAvoy’s Bill trying to save a boy from Pennywise in a funhouse full of mirrors and another one — though it’s a non-horror part — involving Bill’s interaction with a certain cameo appearance.
Now, I got the chance to watch It Chapter Two on a ScreenX cinema, which was officiated by the Golden Screen Cinemas (GSC) in their flagship cinema in 1 Utama Shopping Centre yesterday morning. The ScreenX, of course, refers to a cinematic format that offers a 270-degree panoramic view of a film. It basically works by not only projecting the film on the front screen but also expanded on both left and right sides of the walls in the cinema hall. In theory, it does sound intriguing but the reality is, I found the result more of a gimmick than a wow factor. It felt weird that scenes in It Chapter Two only expanded panoramically every now and then, meaning other times the side screens are empty. That creates a lot of distraction rather than feeling immersive as it supposed to be and it doesn’t help either when there are obvious gaps between the front and side screens. Not to mention certain scenes that were projected on the side screens looked stretched and blurry.