I only have vague memories of the original made for tv two parter in the early nineties – but I strongly recall being underwhelmed by the second part. However having liked the first in this re-adaptation, I sat down to this with anticipation and optimism. Twenty seven years after the events of the first movie, following an incident involving a young man as well as several disappearances of various children, it’s time to get the losers club back together in hope of putting an end to that f***ing clown, once and for all.
In the hands of the same director and with solid choices made when casting the adult counterparts of the first movie’s young cast, I was quickly drawn into this again. It’s filmed with panache and no end of style. Like last time there is a focus on character that works brilliantly, with a welcome dose of flashbacks to the young cast delving deeper into the gang”s friendship where clearly additional scenes were filmed rather than just copy and pasting from the last movie. It helps build up each individual character and made me care for all of them – very important when Pennywise turns up to deliver a wealth of set piece scares.
It’s here with a reliance on said set pieces that the movie falters, and it quickly dawned on me the approach here was maximum frights instead of gradual menace, meaning some of those scares just aren’t earned. It helps that the set-pieces are often imaginative and visually freaky – there’s just so many of them it does get exhausting. Thankfully performances across the board are great, with names like Jessica Chastain,James McAvoy and especially Bill Hader all delivering.
This may be a sequel that considers bigger is necessarily better … more subtlety and a stronger sense of mood (with a need for about 30 minutes chopped from that run time) would have made this equally as good as the first movie. As it stands, this makes up for such shortcomings by still being solid entertainment that’s well acted and brings the story to a (albeit drawn out) decent enough conclusion.
Stephen King has always been a great writer of children characters, often portrayed as outsiders and free of that Hollywood cuteness we often see. They’re relatable and often complex on a par with their adult counterparts. This latest adaptation, a sort of remake of the 1990 two part TV movie and a closer interpretation of King’s book has a group of school kids all seemingly haunted by visions of the same creepy clown. It begins with the disappearance of one kid’s younger brother and soon these kids find themselves thrown together to face an evil that has lurked in the town for decades.
Although at first a scary movie in typical sense, with an over-bearing orchestral score and a reliance on jump-scares, this thankfully focuses on character for the most part and presented this viewer with children to really care about and rout for. There’s overly-vicious bullies seemingly out to beat up any nerdy kid for no apparent reason, and parental supervision is either completely absent or abusive. So demonic clown Pennywise is free to lure in his next victim and only the ‘losers club’ can do anything about it. Bill Skarsgård, at first a strange casting for the role previously filled by genre favourite Tim Curry … is a revelation; creepy, unpredictable and mischievous, whilst at times genuinely frightening. The way the movie has Pennywise playing of certain kids fears is well done even if that ‘hair in plug hole’ sequence seemed plucked from another movie. With that said, the movie isn’t afraid to go for the jugular and some of the violence is pretty brutal even when aimed at children (that opening scene). So I was impressed at how this movie simply went for it, wasn’t trying to tame itself for a wider audience and piled on the scares and gore to full effect. It’s also surprisingly effective as a coming-of-age story, leaving quite an emotional impact on me towards the end. The young cast also do a great job, especially Sophia Lillis (looking like a younger Elizabeth Olson) and Jaeden Lieberher.
Director Andrés Muschietti (Mama) has delivered a thrilling and freakily effective experience that’s despite a few clichés is well cast and left this viewer thirsty for more. Let’s just hope ‘chapter two’ isn’t the let down the second half of the original movie was.
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