Hollywood’s most horrific creation has reared its head once again. And no, I’m not talking about Pennywise, the murderous dancing clown of IT: CHAPTER 2. What I have in mind is something far scarier, eternal, and cursed… sequels.
Yes, sequels. The alchemist’s stone of the entertainment industry, extending the life of a story and franchise beyond its natural conclusion. It’s a good practice when it comes to dollars and cents, but for the fans? The end product is disappointing and lifeless—and, in the case of IT: CHAPTER 2, completely without teeth.
I loved IT’s 2017 remake. It was the right recipe of creep show, gore, nostalgia, and snarky, precocious kids. It made me laugh, as much as it terrified me. Pennywise—as I’d interpreted—was fear personified. A boggart that could change shape, tailoring to its prey as it fed and chased and played. I didn’t need to know exactly what or who he was. The mystery was half the intrigue, and I left the theatre exhilarated and satisfied.
But not so with the dreaded sequel. IT: CHAPTER 2 is a self-indulgent three-hour—that’s right, three-hour—dirge. Although I’m told it’s pretty faithful to the last half of Stephen King’s titular novel, it plays for awkward, forced laughs, and spins away from its horror roots into bizarre science-fiction. Suddenly, IT is about aliens. I guess I should be relieved that the Space Turtle was left out of this incarnation.
What is this, SIGNS?
Gone are the murders, missing children, and Pennywise’s enigma. All of the scares and lore are dragged out of the shadows, leaving little to the imagination. The rest of the time, we’re left to watch a bumbling crew of half-sketched adults as they squabble, brood, and run about the town like a Scooby gang corridors sequence.
I’m of the mind that good horror should be about one of two things—a mystery, or compelling characters. In an ideal world, we’d have both. Take THE RING for example, or THE GRUDGE. Chock full of jump frights and twisted creatures, but at their core, both films focus on uncovering the tortured spooks’ haunting tales. They don’t shy away from ugliness, whether it’s from trauma or jealousy or rage. But these films are compelling because, in the end, we’re left as disturbed by the ghosts as we are by the notion that people can really be monsters.
The first IT film leaned into these tropes, and that’s why it succeeded. It was about the children, chronicling their growth as they learned to overcome fear and apprehension. They came out of shared trauma together, and were better for it. Beverly gained the confidence to break away from her abusive father. Bill finally let others into his life, and made peace with Georgie’s death. Stanley stood up to his oppressive father, and Ben found true friends.
However, CHAPTER 2 reverses the progress that was made in the former film. Beverly marries a man who beats her, Eddie marries a woman who’s exactly like his overbearing mother, Bill blames himself for Georgie’s death, Ben loses weight to try and win others’ affections, and Stanley commits suicide when asked to face his past. Even Mike, who so dreamed of leaving his past behind, chooses to stay in Derry, obsessing over the legend of Pennywise.
They look the part, but they’re not the characters we loved
This backwards development does such a disservice to IT’s characters. They are the heart, humor, and driving force of both films, and yet, CHAPTER 2’s portraiture is as unflattering as it is unfamiliar. It doesn’t build upon the foundation of the previous film, and so in effect, it feels hollow. It’s quite dull to watch grown actors try and mimic their younger counterparts, often in disingenuous earnest, and it’s frustrating to watch the film’s only female reduced to a quivering, useless object of a contrived love triangle.
But while a large part of my malcontent lies with the characters, IT: CHAPTER 2 simply isn’t scary. It’s all bark and no bite. We fear the thing hiding in the shadows. The anticipation of what’s to come. The screeching strings of the orchestral soundtrack and the silence, the held breath before the “boo!”
I waited three hours for that moment. And it never came. Perhaps it’s because the first film took some of the wind out of his sails. Perhaps it’s because we’ve already seen the kids take him on. We know how that final battle played out, so we know Pennywise can be challenged. He’s not all-powerful. He’s touchable. Killable. So, in essence, he was de-fanged before CHAPTER 2 ever began.
With this in mind, his antics are rather droll. Silly, like a child’s nightmare. And perhaps this is the point—it just doesn’t make for great horror.
Whee! You’ll float too!
I feel like this story would have been more compelling if it were told from the vantage point of a group of new kids. People in Derry who have never seen or heard of Pennywise. It would open the doors for new discovery, new lore, new scares. That should be the point of a sequel, right? It’s an opportunity to do something new, with something that’s already established.
Perhaps I expected too much from a sequel of a remake of a terrible ‘80s movie that was adapted from an even stranger novel. But with so many great horror titles floating out there in the world, it’s hard not to judge a flick by its scares and its characters. CHAPTER 2 grossly disappoints, but fans of Stephen King will be pleased by its faithfulness to the source material.
Just wait for CHAPTER 3. We might get to see that Space Turtle after all.