[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.

[Early Review] The Curse of La Llorona (2019)

Director: Michael Chaves

Cast: Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz, Patricia Vasquez

Screenplay: Mikki Daughtry, Tobias Iaconis

93 mins. Rated R for violence and terror.

 

I had one major question about the marketing for this movie before I went in, and I left with that same question: why the hell did they not market this film as a part of The Conjuring Universe? It states on most of the material that the film has the same producers and studio as The Conjuring, but not once in the marketing is expressly stated. I just don’t get it. This film is not like Captain Marvel or Aquaman where you have the understanding going in that it naturally connects to a shared universe, so why the hell not use that angle in your marketing?

The Curse of La Llorona, based on Mexican folklore, follows Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini, Avengers: Age of Ultron, A Simple Favor), a widowed social worker and mother of two who is searching for foul play in a tragedy involving a case she has worked for some time. As she probes for information about the tragic events, her family begins to see supernatural horrors in the form of a weeping woman called La Llorona who has now targeted her kids. When the church is unable to help her, Anna turns to Rafael (Raymond Cruz, Alien: Resurrection, TV’s Major Crimes), a mystical former priest who believes he can stop La Llorona before the weeping woman claims Anna’s kids for herself.

The Conjuring franchise has struggled with quality in their spin-off films, and The Curse of La Llorona is no exception. I applaud it for choosing to hit its horror very early but that leads to a sacrifice in character development. We don’t get to know much about Anna’s kids and so our only fear from them comes from the fact that they are children and because the audience understands Anna’s love for them. Outside of that, though, they are tremendously underdeveloped.

Raymond Cruz gives great work here but I didn’t like that screenplay from Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis (Five Feet Apart) gave his character so much comic relief. After a bulk of the film contains virtually no comic relief, getting it at the end from a character the audience is supposed to look to for safety is an odd choice.

The Conjuring Universe has been trying this interconnected thing and it’s probably the second-best cinematic universe right now outside of the MCU juggernaut, but I haven’t been a fan of their forceful shoehorning of references in their films. In this film, there is stock footage of Annabelle to show how Tony Amendola’s character connects these two stories and it couldn’t have felt more forced if the director had paused the narrative and stepped out in front of the film to proclaim, “Here! Look here! This is how they connect!” The film doesn’t need that to thrive. Just have Father Perez reference the Annabelle doll like he did and let that be it. It will not alienate people who did not see the first Annabelle film and for those that get it, it will be all the more fun.

I feel like we should talk about the actual horror in the film. This is an angry spirit who, for the most part, has two major elements to her scares: her voice and her shock value. The voice is a really strong part of her character. There’s one scene in particular that works really well in the film where we don’t even see La Llorona but we hear her crying and then her scream just filled the atmosphere, putting all the candles out in the dimly lit home. It’s a great moment that we don’t get enough of. The other scare, though, is done all too often. This film is full of jump scares. La Llorona barely has buildup when she appears outside of the sound of her weeping. Most of the time, though, director Michael Chaves (The Maiden, TV’s Chase Champion) doesn’t let his film breathe enough to develop the scares. It’s something I really hope he learns to do before he gets behind the camera for The Conjuring III.

Overall, The Curse of La Llorona is very similar to The Nun. Both films have strength in their spiritual mythologies, but they both struggle with building their horror and rely all too often on jump scares. I think this will appeal to fans of The Conjuring Universe, and it’s a breath of fresh air for a series that has relied so heavily on the Warrens and the main Conjuring film mythology. I surely had a lot of fun in this theater experience, so if you see it, do so on opening weekend with a good-sized crowd.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Corin Hardy’s The Nun, click here.

For my review of David F. Sandberg’s Annabelle: Creation, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring 2, click here.

For my review of Michael Chaves’s The Maiden, click here.

James Wan is Taking a Long Nap as Aquaman Wraps Post-Production

James Wan is a very busy man. It’s a wonder, with all the producing he does on films like The Nun and The Curse of La Llorona, that he has time to make a big tentpole film like the upcoming DCEU film Aquaman, but he does it.

Wan took to Instagram for the announcement, writing:

“After two years of consuming and devouring my every waking hour, this little indie movie is finally done. It was a monster undertaking. I can’t THANK enough the amazing post team of VFX/editorial/sound for working tirelessly around the clock – crazy long days, 7 days a week, for many many many weeks without a day off – towards making this a unique and beautiful film. Everyone poured their heart and soul into it, and I can’t wait to share this 21st December! In the meantime, I’m gonna go take a really long nap now.”

The first few trailers garnered some poor reviews for their CG. I personally didn’t find trouble with it, but I also understand that most trailers have unfinished CG. Wan’s film will be very CG-heavy, so it’s no coincidence that the film is just now wrapping Post-Production.

I’m very happy for James Wan. I’ve been a fan of his since the original Saw film, which he directed. I’ve traced his path through a lot of horror and seen a director that consistently grows from each experience. His last big-budget feature Furious 7 was hampered with filming troubles after the sudden death of star Paul Walker, so I know he has dealt with stress quite well and his work shows focus and determination to deliver a superior product. I haven’t been excited for a DCEU film in some times as the cinematic universe has garnered its own share of criticism since its inception back in 2013. Well, it certainly makes me excited to see James Wan’s Aquaman next month.

Aquaman surfaces in theater on December 21st.

So what do you think? Are you excited for Aquaman. Let me know/drop a comment below.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Early Review] The Nun (2018)

Director: Corin Hardy

Cast: Demian Bichir, Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet

Screenplay: Gary Dauberman

96 mins. Rated R for terror, violence, and disturbing/bloody images.

 

I’ve been a fan of The Conjuring universe since the first film, and outside of the original Annabelle film, I’ve found them to be very competently put together as individual films while also contributing nicely to a larger framework. Still, though, there’s been something rather concerning about The Nun and, looking to the future, The Crooked Man. What’s been bothering me about both films have been the narrative that’s been set up within The Conjuring 2. The Nun and The Crooked Man are both very connected to the Warrens and the specific case that they are working on within the film, The Crooked Man purposefully created as an apparition meant to frighten or horrify one particular child. I just couldn’t see how a film could be formed that respected the characters that have been built and forge a new interesting path. Last night, I saw The Nun at an early press screening, and while being a more competent film that expected, it still struggles to exist without hanging on previous films.

The Nun follows Father Burke (Demian Bichir, The Hateful Eight, Alien: Covenant), a sort-of Catholic detective, who is sent by the Vatican to investigate a horrible suicide by a nun at an abbey in Romania. He is joined by Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga, The Final Girls, TV’s American Horror Story), a novitiate who suffers from disturbing visions, as the two attempt to unravel the mystery of the suicide and determine what horrors lie within the walls of the abbey.

Comparatively speaking, The Nun is not the worst film in this universe, but it rest on the lower side of things for several small reasons that build to a less-than-incredible experience. The way the film starts made me feel like Warner Bros. put their hands in the post-production process as the opening has a minute-long prologue featuring a montage from The Conjuring 2 all about the Nun. It felt very unneeded and very forced as if the studio-head walked out in front of the audience at the beginning and shouted, “Remember the nun from The Conjuring 2? That’s what this movie is!” You don’t need that. I think without the forced connectivity to the rest of the universe, The Nun works fine as a standalone film. I took a friend to Annabelle: Creation who had only seen the original The Conjuring. He didn’t take issue with the universe connections and enjoyed himself nonetheless. There’s some overworking of the universe connections later on that also could have been trimmed as more of an Easter egg to fans instead of a full-blown forced explanation as well.

I also wasn’t a fan of secondary character Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet, Elle, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets), the man who helps guide Father Burke and Sister Irene to the Abbey, and the humor he brings to the film. Bloquet is not entirely to blame here. I just found that the combination of the dialogue in Gary Dauberman’s (It, Within) script with Bloquet’s portrayal and the direction by Corin Hardy (The Hallow) combined to make some unfunny pieces of humor that didn’t fit the tone of the narrative. Nothing altogether cringeworthy, but just out of place.

Now, that’s not to say that I hated the film. Far from it. I found myself thoroughly interested in the mystery and the intrigue. I wanted more of it. I did jump quite a bit at some of the more well-planned out scares (though many of the scares are rather similar, someone getting stalked by a nun), and I mildly enjoyed the partnership between Bichir’s Burke and Farmiga’s Irene. It just wasn’t up to par with what I’ve come to expect.

All in all, The Nun is a scary enough film with a flawed screenplay and a little glaringly obvious studio assistance. It’s a nice enough film that should satisfy the audience even if it falls short of its franchise expectations.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

Have you seen The Nun yet? What’s your favorite film in The Conjuring universe? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

For my review of David F. Sandberg’s Annabelle: Creation, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring 2, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Early Review] Annabelle: Creation (2017)

Director: David F. Sandberg

Cast: Stephanie Sigman, Miranda Otto, Lulu Wilson, Talitha Bateman, Anthony LaPaglia

Screenplay: Gary Dauberman

109 mins. Rated R for horror violence and terror.

 

Hey everyone, I had the chance to catch an early screening for Annabelle: Creation, the prequel to a prequel to The Conjuring. If that sounds confusing, that’s because it is. Real quick, let’s track this franchise…

There are further planned films in The Conjuring Universe, including a third Conjuring film as well as further spin-offs for The Nun and The Crooked Man, but I’m digressing…

Annabelle: Creation is the story of a nun, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman, Spectre, Once Upon a Time in Venice), and a few orphaned girls who are taken in by the Mullins, Esther (Miranda Otto, TV’s 24: Legacy, War of the Worlds) and Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia, TV’s Without a Trace, The Assignment). Janice (Talitha Bateman, Nine Lives, The 5th Wave) immediately begins witnessing strange and unexplained events, seemingly surrounding a doll made by Mr. Mullins. Soon, Linda (Lulu Wilson, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Deliver Us from Evil), Janice’s best friend, starts to see it too, and she fears for Janice’s safety. It becomes clear that Mr. and Mrs. Mullins have a terrible secret hidden in their past that is about to break free and put the orphans in unimaginable danger.

First off, I have to say that I was very nervous about another Annabelle film. While I thought the first Annabelle film was okay, I understood that it existed within the larger framework of The Conjuring which was a truly excellent film and the difference in quality was just too wide. Then, I noticed that the prequel had the same screenwriter as the first film, Gary Dauberman (Swamp Devil, Within), and I assumed that we wouldn’t see anything too different from the original. Finally, I noticed that the film was pulled from its original release and placed in August. The studio reasoning for this was to avoid competition with Alien: Covenant, which made sense but also could’ve been a really good spin on the story.

But there was also good news bits. First, James Wan, director of The Conjuring and producer for Annabelle, explained that they had heard the reviews for Annabelle and were going to use the feedback to craft a stronger film. Then, David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) came aboard the project as a director. This is what kicked my excitement into full gear.

The finished project is a definite step up for the Annabelle series. Sandberg fills his film with frights and mood that stacks as the film progresses into an amazingly tense nail-biting finale. The performers were also very strong. We are seeing an amazing year for young female performers from films such as The Beguiled, and Bateman and Wilson are no exception. Their work, particularly in the scenes they share, is exemplary. Annabelle: Creation also holds strong with seasoned performers like Otto and LaPaglia that help to elevate the girls’ acting.

The film is not entirely without flaws, however, and Annabelle: Creation does suffer due to its somewhat simplistic storytelling. There isn’t a lot of shock to the film’s narrative and it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to engage its audience. Thankfully, Sandberg knows how to get the best that he can from his characters, but there are moments when Annabelle: Creation falls back on its tropes. There is just enough in the film that works that it didn’t ruin my enjoyment when the plot sauntered into cliché.

I also felt like the ending didn’t stand on its own but relied rather heavily on the audience’s awareness of the franchise. I don’t really want to get into it but the film doesn’t feel like it has an ending.

Overall, Annabelle: Creation is not likely to disappoint fans of the horror genre. There are genuinely creepy moments especially in the finale that work really well. For Sandberg, this isn’t a better outing than Lights Out but it proves that the director is capable of stepping into someone else’s sandbox and playing nice with it. Annabelle: Creation both excites me for Sandberg’s next project (Shazam for DC) as well as the further widening of The Conjuring Universe. I would advise horror fans to give the one a try.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

Have you seen Annabelle: Creation? What did you think of it? And what spin-off from The Conjuring are you most excited for? The Nun? The Crooked Man? A possible Annabelle 3? Let me know! Drop a comment below!

 

For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring 2, click here.

 

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