Tom Augustine on The Weekend in Film
It's fair to say that nothing else really looks like It: Chapter Two (dir. Andy Muschietti, Rated R16) on the big screen this year. Objectively speaking, this mishmash of Spielbergian blockbuster excess and the peculiar fecundity of Stephen King's horror epic makes for an occasionally deeply surreal experience. The original IT story is at least in part about deconstructing all the things that have scared the Western world during the years in pop culture - from zombies to axe murderers to killer clowns. In It: Chapter Two, the concluding segment of Muschietti's enormous adaptation of the novel, there's a similar sense of throwing everything in but the kitchen sink - hideous lepers, warped, mutant crones and deranged asylum escapees abound, to say nothing of Bill Skarsgard's off-kilter performance as the menacing clown, Pennywise.
Picking up 27 years after the events of It: Chapter One, the band of kids that first defeated Pennywise, known as the Losers, have long since left the town of Derry and forgotten the experience. But when a series of disturbing events indicate the return of a malevolent evil to Derry, each is drawn back by Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), the only one who stayed in the town. From there, the story balloons outward, quite literally. The key weakness of It: Chapter Two is its obscenely bloated running time, clocking in at almost three hours. Muschietti uses this not as a way to deepen the lore of the story or investigate the characters' psychologies but rather to hit the same surface-level points over and over again - ideas of fear, unity and friendship already made very clear by It: Chapter One. Muschietti seems limited to employing the same scare structure time and time again as well - a misdirect followed by a jump-scare, to the point that any thrills to be had quickly morph into the exhausting as time goes on. It's a shame, as the core cast is mostly pretty strong: James McAvoy makes for a likeable hero, James Ransone is eerily similar to his child counterpart and Kiwi Jay Ryan fills the shoes of the soulful Ben with stoic charm. Bill Hader totally steals the show as comedian and motormouth Richie, bringing real pathos to the comedic relief role. It's Jessica Chastain, oddly enough, who never really seems to capture the spirit of Bev (who, as the anchor of the Losers, feels essential to really nail). Ultimately, in cherry-picking from the admittedly bonkers mythology that drives the It story. Chapter Two finds itself stumbling into myriad plot holes or, worse, unintentional moments of hilarity, that belie its occasional stretches of inspiration or sweetness (in particular, its apocalyptic, operatic finale).
RATING: Three stars.
Also in cinemas this week, audiences can take a second swing at the masterful The Farewell (dir. Lulu Wang, Rated PG) following its recent bow at the film festival. A sensitive and powerful family drama, the film follows a young woman (Awkwafina, fantastic) who travels to her hometown in China after learning of her grandmother's terminal diagnosis and the revelation that her family have decided not to inform her of her own rapidly advancing mortality. Based on a true story, the film is patient, sensitive, remarkably universal in its specificity. It taps into the anxiety of losing the ones you grew up with in subtle, frequently devastating ways. One of the best of the year, The Farewell is not to be missed.
Rating: Five stars.