[Early Review] It: Chapter Two (2019)

Director: Andy Muschietti

Cast: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Bill Skarsgård

Screenplay: Gary Dauberman

169 mins. Rated R for disturbing violent content and bloody images throughout, pervasive language, and some crude sexual material.

 

When you have a film like It, something that was so consumed by the pop culture at the time of release, getting a follow-up to stick the landing is a pretty tough endeavor. Thankfully, It: Chapter Two was ready for the challenge.

It’s been 27 years since the Losers Club encountered It, and most of them have gone on with their lives, having forgotten all about the dancing clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård, The Divergent Series: Allegiant, Assassination Nation) and the oath they made to each other, that they would return to Derry if It ever came back. Now, with children going missing and a body recovered in the small time, Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa, The Clinic, TV’s Shadowhunters) places the calls to his friends, who aren’t too keen on coming back to defeat It once and for all. Now, the Losers Club, as adults, will have to perform an ancient ritual that Mike is certain will destroy It, but it will take each of them back to the worst parts of their childhood to confront their darkest fears in an effort to save the town and the children of a new generation.

I’ve stated before that, having read the book, that the stuff with the kids is more interesting than the stuff with the adults, but director Andy Muschietti (Mama) and screenwriter Gary Dauberman (The Nun, TV’s Swamp Thing) have found an workable way to explore these characters and all the changes that have come upon them. It: Chapter Two spends some of its lengthy three-hour runtime on the flashbacks to 1989 and revisiting the Losers Club in their collective youth, something that I think helps connect these adult actors to their younger incarnations. Through the use of digital de-aging (something that has hits and misses in the film), we are able to see the connective tissue and character arcs manifest in the Losers as they return to Derry.

The casting in the film is phenomenal. I had some deep concerns about how the casting for this second part would go, seeing that there could be a potential for the studio to pick all big names or all unknowns, and the final result is more in line with picking performers who can embody the characters through their mannerisms, dialogue, and cadence. I cannot believe how great the cast is here, but the standout is without a doubt Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins, TV’s Barry) as the adult Richie Tozier, played in the first film by Finn Wolfhard. Hader steals every scene he’s in, and even though I think he is given a bit too much comedy in the screenplay, he sells it without overdoing it. He also has the best character arc of the group due to some additions that weren’t in the book that work very well.

Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy, Filth, Glass) is the surrogate for King himself here, having aged into a writer that is constantly critiqued for his endings, and the love triangle between himself, Beverly (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty, Dark Phoenix), and Ben (Jay Ryan, Lou, TV’s Neighbours) plays out really well in this film. I like the way it’s done in the book, but not being able to actually get inside these characters’ thoughts, I think the translation, which makes some adjustments, is satisfyingly put to film here. Chastain’s Beverly has suffered with the men in her life going all the way back to her relationship with her abusive father, and she’s haunted by visions from her time staring into the deadlights back in 1989 have led her down a successful but lonely adulthood, and finding that poem on the postcard back in Derry opens up some wounds and confusion, she herself not certain exactly who wrote it.

James Ransone (Sinister, Captive State) is one of those actors I didn’t know as well, but he embodies Eddie so well, having grown up into a man that is essentially married to his mother but still struggling with his past fears and paranoias as a child. He is easily the most terrified of the Losers upon returning to Derry, and with good reason. I think the fears that Eddie is presented with are so relatable and that’s one of the ways Ransone connects with the audience. He also nails the speech style and physical ticks of Jack Dylan Grazer, who played young Eddie in the first film.

Bill Skarsgård is yet again at the top of his game here, but I will warn you that we don’t see a lot of Pennywise in the finished film. It’s not about him; it’s never really been about him, and It is a shapeshifter meant to take on your biggest fears, so it’s a criticism I heard at my screening that I would take issue with. It’s just a problem with Skarsgård being so good that you want him in the movie more.

It: Chapter Two is, if I’m correct, the longest studio horror film ever, clocking in at 169 minutes, but I never really felt it. I enjoy myself so much with these characters and this town that it didn’t bother me that the film is long. I wanted more time, in fact, but you should know that it isn’t three-hours of white knuckle horror. Again, my biggest flaw with the film is the same as with the first one: I wasn’t scared. I would say I had more effective scares in Chapter Two, but the film is more about the characters than about It.

Muschietti gets more experimental, spiritual, and cerebral with Chapter Two. His visual style elevates here, giving a more nightmarish and odd look at the town and its many horrors, and though some of the film feels like retread, it’s done with a different hook this time around. The haunts of the film tend to rely more on CGI, something that doesn’t look as clean here, but there are still enough shocks and surprises peppered throughout that definitely got the audience during my screening.

Fans of It, be they from the original book or even the 1990 miniseries, should find a lot to enjoy with It: Chapter Two. It’s not a perfect ending, but I found myself thoroughly engaged with the story all the way through to the ending, and it made me want to go back, rewatch the first film again (a requirement, I would say, before seeing this one), and then come right back to the theater to see the second-half again. It’s a very watchable conclusion to this story, one that will be in my regular rotation during the horror months, and it’s definitely more suited to a Kill Bill-style event viewing wherein one watches both films together. I loved the film, though I will note that there are issues with the overall execution, but I would still highly-recommend this finale to anyone who liked the first film.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Andy Muschietti’s It, click here.

The Shape of Water (2017)

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg

Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor

123 mins. Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language.

 

Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak) is a director known for his visual flair and attention to detail, but he has yet to cross the barrier into household name. His newest film, The Shape of Water, is his most deeply personal and intimate. The film is garnering some critical and festival praise right now, but is that warranted? This writer has been excited for the film since early this year, and I was overjoyed to catch a screening of it earlier this week.

The film stars Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky, Godzilla) as Elisa Esposito, a mute woman who works overnights as a janitor for the Occam Aerospace Research Center. She is perhaps too curious to discover that a strange new asset has been delivered to the facility one night, a dangerous new creature discovered in South America. As the creature is unable to communicate with sound, he quickly takes to Elisa’s use of sign language as well as the gifts of boiled eggs she brings him. When Elisa learns what the creature’s handler, Strickland (Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), plans to do with him, she hatches a plan to save the amphibious being and, along the way, discovers that her affection for the creature has grown exponentially.

I’m going to say it right now: The Shape of Water is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The plot is familiar enough in its simplest terms, but del Toro proves yet again that isn’t the story you tell but rather how you tell it that makes a masterpiece, and this one might be the director’s best work to date. The story he tells is one of love, attraction, repression, and loneliness using the central relationship between Elisa and the amphibious creature, played brilliantly by del Toro favorite Doug Jones (Hellboy II: The Golden Army, TV’s Star Trek: Discovery).

While Elisa and the Creature are the central relationship of the film, the secondary relationships give a nice contrast, showing Elisa’s friendship with chatty co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures, The Divergent Series: Allegiant) and the tenderness of her friendship with neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins, The Visitor, LBJ). The web is stretched further to show the way that Zelda behaves toward her husband and also how Giles, a closeted homosexual, pursues an attraction in an era where repression has made him self-conscious and very lonely. Then, there’s the polarized opposition of Strickland’s family dynamic and the way he treats his colleagues, specifically Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man, Arrival). The film’s near-constant unraveling of every relationship is fascinating and introspective in all the right ways.

The Shape of Water might be the best film I’ve seen this year. There’s a lot to unpack, and it feels like I need to see it again to fully connect to it, but the film, while a bit lengthy in its second act, is an exemplary look at love and attraction presented in its most unique fashion. This movie will challenge audiences and I hope you leave with as many questions as I did. That is, after all, the beauty in it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

Have you seen The Shape of Water? What did you think? What’s your favorite relationship in the film? Let me know/drop a comment below!

 

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