Welcome to the Loser’s Club: Some Thoughts on It Chapter Two

Guys, have you heard the news? It: Chapter Two is long. Like really long. Like really really long. You’re gonna have to go nearly three hours without checking your phone. I heard it was so long, someone died while they were watching it. It’s that long!

Joking aside, yes, the movie is too long. But it’s getting a little exhausting seeing every review immediately prefaced with a diatribe on the run-time. Has our attention spans gotten so bad that watching a slightly overlong movie now qualifies as some kinda torture?

Personally, I didn’t start feeling the length until the ending. There’s an unnecessary LOTR-style multiple closings. I’m gonna try and keep this blog post spoiler-free as much as possible, so I’ll just say there’s like three possible endings and they should’ve just stuck with one.

Of course, when people complain about run-time, it’s really pacing they’re complaining about. And It: Chapter 2 is definitely guilty of some pacing issues. On top of the ending, I thought some of the flashback sequences were too long, which came at the expense of developing the characters as adults. I would’ve liked to have seen more time spent with the adults in the current lives. That first act felt very rushed. The Muschiettis really wanted to get them all to Derry as fast as possible. If they’d trimmed the movie by like twenty mins, it would’ve been perfect. Or at least better prioritized screen time.

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Overall, I was really pleased with It Chapter 2. But I probably came in with lower expectations than most, because the old TV mini series’ part 2 is just so spectacularly awful. Also, the adult sections of the book tend to be the most boring. So the Muschiettis had their work cut out for them. It’s also worth noting this is the first big time movie for them. Yes, It was very successful, but it had a much smaller budget and exceeded its expectations. I feel like they really wanted to do justice to the story and reached a little too far with scope and editing etc.

The movie’s greatest strength is definitely the casting. Bill Skarskgard was a great choice as Pennywise, and James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain are solid as usual. But Bill Hader and James Ransone really steal the show here. Real talk, Ransone as adult Eddie Kaspbrack might be the most inspired casting since Brando as Don Corleone. OK, maybe I’m being hyperbolic. Maybe.

In terms of the direction, I would argue that, in some ways, It: Chapter 2 better captures the tone of the novel than the first movie. There’s a manic energy in this movie that is so rare. It felt like it was a comedy where the horror intruded, which we don’t see a lot in western horror films. Muschietti seemed inspired by Korean horror like The Host or The Wailing. This is appropriate because when Stephen King is at his full powers, he manages to combine melodrama, comedy, and horror into a delicious cocaine-fueled stew. It: Chapter 2 is best in the moments that it manages to capture that vibe.

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It has always been my favourite King novel, even thought it’s not his best (I’d say Pet Sematary is). I read It when I was 14 and can remember being shocked by its content. I didn’t know you were allowed to publish that kind of stuff. There are scenes in that novel that are unfilmable — and not just *that* scene.

The novel’s structure also makes it a challenge to adapt. Rather than halving the book chronologically like the TV mini series and films, King bounces back and forth in time. This leads to a double climax that is one of the most amazing conclusions I’ve ever read. The last 200 pages or so of It is King’s best writing. I’d reason It would work best as a longer TV mini series in the vein of Mike Flanagan’s recent Hill House. Maybe in another twenty-seven years I can hope for the next adaptation lol.

It is also King’s most Lovecraftian novel. Pennywise is very much inspired by Nyarlathotep. But It is more than just a Lovecraft pastiche. There’s also a Shirley Jackson-esque critique of small town America. It is the King novel that contains all King novels. He called It his dissertation on the horror genre. This is clear with all his homages to classic cinematic horror monsters as well as the frequent meditations on phobias and nightmarish visions.

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More than that, It really shows King’s core philosophy. Unlike Lovecraft, who was consumed with a cynical nihilism, King is willing to gaze into the abyss without succumbing to despair.

Pennywise serves as a metaphor for inherent cruelty of life. He is presented as a chthonic force, millions of years old. The town of Derry is built atop his nest, and he thrives under its indifference. The Losers are terrorized by Pennywise and Bowers but the adults do nothing. King’s message is clear: the world is a nasty place and all the institutions you think are meant to protect you (family, law, community) will fail you.

But this is where King and Lovecraft part ways. Instead of his characters all dying or losing their minds, they fight back. Instead of succumbing to the abyss, they create friendships that are stronger than any familial or community bond. I love this earnestness in King’s writing. In Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Gertrude Stein says “We all fear death and question our place in the universe. The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.” When the Losers defeat Pennywise, King is showing how friendship is the antidote to despair.

So It isn’t just King’s love letter to horror, it’s also a testament to friendship. I’d argue the Muschiettis really grasped this duality, which is why their two movies shine despite their flaws.

~ by braddunne on September 7, 2019.

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