Movies

{Movie Review} Fear Salts the Meat: It Chapter Two (2019)

“Everybody wants a happy ending…”

How to write about It Chapter Two, Andy Muschietti’s ambitious, iconic, and ultimately frustrating follow-up to the already ambitious, iconic, and frustrating first installment in his adaptation of one of Stephen King’s most beloved books?

I was mixed on the first chapter of It, but, as I predicted in that review, it has gotten better with time and distance. A trick not unlike the trick that Derry plays on our band of protagonists, but instead of forgetting everything, I’ve just forgotten the stuff I didn’t like, while the good stuff has grown larger and larger in my memory—as Pennywise grows larger and larger to our protagonists until, of course, he doesn’t.

{Movie Review} Fear Salts the Meat: It Chapter Two (2019)
Photo Courtesy of New Line Cinema

So, will It Chapter Two perform a similar conjuring trick, disappearing the bits that dragged or sagged or simply didn’t work while the bravura moments expand like a red balloon to fill in the gaps? Only time will tell, I guess.

Still, even then, It Chapter Two is not the movie that its predecessor was—for good and ill. Chapter One, let’s call it for now, was a horror movie through and through, even if its horror set pieces had to coexist (often awkwardly) alongside its undercooked coming of age story. This film isn’t trying as hard, at least not to scare you, though it’s plenty earnest (to the point of corniness) in lots of other places—just like King’s own work.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of horror set pieces—there are quite a few, and some monster designs that deserve a little more air than I’m going to give them here, for the sake of avoiding spoilers—just that they feel orphaned in the film’s massive three-hour runtime. This is a movie much more interested in the interactions of its band of Losers than it is in its own monsters, though at fully three hours, there’s lots of both.

{Movie Review} Fear Salts the Meat: It Chapter Two (2019)
Photo Courtesy of New Line Cinema

The problem is that, as in the first movie, the Losers are so thinly drawn that almost all the heavy lifting of bringing them to life falls to the actors, who are mostly up to the challenge. Much has been made of Bill Hader’s performance—and he’s good, though I could have used fewer shots of him throwing up right on the camera—but really the entire cast is strong, and they mostly do an amazing job of feeling just like their middle school counterparts.

And if you were concerned that you wouldn’t get enough kids-on-bikes stuff this time around, not to worry, the entire original cast is back and just about everyone gets their own horror set-pieces as they retrieve the memories they need for the Ritual of Chüd. Which, yes, is in here, even if it’s not quite like it was in the book.

Take the instance of homophobic violence that opens the film. Sure, it’s pulled more-or-less straight from the book, and it helps to underscore a mostly new character arc later in the movie, but was it worth it? After all, there’s a lot going on in this movie. Everyone has subplots and flashbacks; there’s a Stephen King cameo; there’s a nod to The Shining that’s just awkward; you name it.

A scene that probably felt right when the story was set in the ‘50s and the ‘80s feels off today—and not just because the movie mines real-life tragedy for shallow exploitation. (Caution, heavy spoilers at that link.) Even the retrograde homosexual subplot that is introduced possibly to balance this out is all coding and implication—the kind of thing we could have expected in a movie from 1990, not 2019.

{Movie Review} Fear Salts the Meat: It Chapter Two (2019)
Photo Courtesy of New Line Cinema

Mixed in with all of this are those scare scenes I mentioned before. I’m not sure any of them quite hit the level of the best bits of the first movie, but there are some inspired monsters here, and the filmmakers seem emboldened to lean in to some sillier stuff—the sequence with the Paul Bunyan statue is both A+ and, simultaneously, would not have felt out of place in the 2015 Goosebumps movie. And if the proceedings feel more than a little reminiscent of Beetlejuice, I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that’s a feature or a bug.

All our Losers seem a lot more successful in this version than I remember them being in the miniseries, Beverly’s cartoonishly abusive husband notwithstanding. In that version, if I’m recalling it correctly, they had all mostly forgotten Derry, sure, but it had poisoned all of their lives, so they were incomplete without finishing the job they started 27 years ago.

The “getting the team together” montage also starts a running gag about endings that feels like the filmmakers setting up a dodge for their own inability to bring this great beast in for a perfect landing.

This is all a bit rambling but then, so’s the movie. In order to keep the jump scare pace up, we’re introduced to minor characters just to have them killed off by Pennywise. One of these becomes very personal, but others the Losers are entirely unaware of—they’re there just for us.

Andy Muschietti has said that there’s no extended director’s cut of Chapter Two on the way, which is probably a blessing, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t weird threads laying around that the movie never takes up.
Several of the kids we see in Derry have red on their faces, which, given red’s association with Pennywise, seems meaningful, even if we never really follow it through. See also the implication that what the Losers did 27 years ago changed Pennywise in some meaningful way that the film never really interrogates beyond his own obsession with them.

All this, and I haven’t even discussed the funhouse sequence—which is either praise or condemnation, even I’m not sure which.

{Movie Review} Fear Salts the Meat: It Chapter Two (2019)
Photo Courtesy of New Line Cinema

Ultimately, all I thought I wanted from It Chapter Two was more of what I liked in the first movie, with a story that delved into the cosmic horror at the heart of King’s book (which I still haven’t read, so I’m going by what I’ve picked up from cultural osmosis) and wasn’t afraid to go big and weird. And I mostly got that, along with a reminder that I apparently also wanted the movie to lean in to its horror more than it did.

It Chapter Two certainly gets big and weird, but not as capital-W Weird as I was not-so-secretly hoping. Even when the horror elements achieve (and capitalize on) the surreal power of the best scenes of the first installment, the movie isn’t as interested in them as I am. And though the final confrontation goes big, it becomes more of an action movie set piece than a horror one—even while resolving itself on a “conquering your fears” note.

Still, while It Chapter Two can’t help but feel a little disappointing fresh out of the theater, it’ll probably get better with age and, even if it doesn’t, we got a big, ambitious, three-hour-long, hard-R horror blockbuster. That’s not something that happens every day. But if Chapter Two does as well as Chapter One did, maybe it’ll happen a little more often…

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