Written by Jonathan Wojcik
It Chapter Two: Monster by Monster
(With Stock Art Again)
Hot on the heels of having seen Scary Stories, we've now seen IT: Chapter Two, and you may remember that I mostly enjoyed the first chapter as someone who was once pretty into the novel. Unfortunately, I actually found the second chapter...less good. Devoting an article to that alone might be both complicated and boring, but I can still do another "visually spoiler-free" monster review through the medium of Stock Art Preview Images, each of which is of course available for purchase in its original, unwatermarked resolution if any of them catch your eye.
The first monsters we see in this chapter besides Pennywise the clown are a pretty classic moment in both the book and the TV miniseries, when a bowl of fortune cookies "hatch" into a variety of distressing organisms. My original favorite of these in the book and miniseries was the shrieking, embryonic bird, and it's still a very charming presence, but much more prominent is a scrabbling, buzzing insect with the face of a human baby and a human eyeball that delightfully drags itself around by its veins and nerves. The eye was in previous iterations as well, but it never crawled before, which may have been this movie's tribute to the presence of The Crawling Eye in the book.
THE FORTUNE COOKIE CRITTERS
As to be expected, the scene is much, much more exaggerated, much more intense than any version we've seen before; more of a spectacle for the 3-D showings. It also ends on one of the movie's funniest moments, and we'll be talking a bit more about funny moments as we continue.
Early into the film, we're given a glimpse into IT's past encounters with the human race, namely with the Native American tribe who lived where the town of Derry now stands. IT takes the form of a gigantic bird here, then a towering humanoid with a boomerang-shaped head and multiple, glowing eyes. These forms have the interesting appearance of skeletal structures formed from a driftwood-like material, but I don't think that really counts as part of the "creature design," because the humans in this flashback are depicted the same way; it's the style of the scene, rather than the literal form taken by the monster.
Standing in front of Derry's city hall is a huge, tacky, colorful, smiling Paul Bunyan, the sort of thing a lot of children might find creepier than adults ever expected they would. This is exactly the case with Richie, who remembers IT bringing the statue to life. This might have been legitimately frightening if it were a little subtler, and especially if the statue had just kept its own cheesy, smiling face through the sequence. This film, however, once again goes for flashy spectacle and has Paul Bunyan's face dissolve into a more burnt, corpse-like affair with a gaping mouth full of wooden splinter teeth. It's all much too silly to feel tense, especially since it's a childhood flashback and we therefore know already that the character survives.
THE PAUL BUNYAN STATUE
Much more unsettling and much more effective is the scene moments later, when all other humans present simply freeze in place once Pennywise appears to taunt a grown-up Richie, and when Pennywise momentarily breaks into song, the stoic masses sway along to it.
This was one of the most memorable forms taken by the monster in the book, as a kindly little granny devolved from merely awkward social behavior - loudly slurping her tea and making a few passive-aggressive statements - to full on perversion. This is almost executed perfectly by this movie, with some genuinely frightening moments of an old woman moving and behaving in a highly abnormal fashion when Beverly's back is turned.
THE OLD WOMAN
Uuuuuunfortunately, the direction just won't let us have any quieter, dreamier chills for long. The woman soon EXPLODES from around a corner as a towering, ghoulish hag with rolling eyeballs and a series of additional mouths down her neck and chest, and I once again just get the impression that they wanted something to look cool in 3-D. It's another stomping, screaming, flailing action sequence that dashes any real dread, tension or horror they could have otherwise milked from the situation.
The Leper was one of the most unpleasant monsters in the book, skipped over by the miniseries, and more monstrous than ever in the 2017 film. In chapter two, they add an abnormally long tongue to the rotting, diseased old man and a penchant for shoving it into other people's mouths, which is certainly the most terrifying thing for him to be doing to a germophobe, but by now, every monster encounter in the movie has begun to feel like a Resident Evil quicktime event. The final appearance by the Leper here is more funny than it is scary, though at least this time, that's kind of the intention. Chapter Two attempts the same comedy-horror balance as Chapter One, but I'm sorry to say that only the comedy half really worked for me this time around.
THE LEPER'S RETURN
I can't remember if this happened in the books, but one sequence has IT taking the form of Beverly before her head and shoulders burst into flame. I thought I'd count it as a monster, but there's not a lot I can say about it that I haven't said about the others; it's a loud, fast-paced, CG-enhanced chase sequence.
Without spoiling its surrounding context, there is a sequence in this movie in which a severed, rotten head sprouts a number of fuzzy, spider-like legs ending in tiny, chitinous hands. The transformation sequence deliberately mirrors the one in John Carpenter's The Thing and even lifts a line of dialog straight from the scene, which is a cute homage and one of the more interesting creatures on-screen, but I suppose that isn't saying much. A head with bug legs isn't anything too remarkable to the monster-savvy, and the ensuing sequence is another video-game cutscene battle.
I can't say much about this one without spoiling probably my favorite encounter in the movie. It's intentionally one for laughs, and it works in that regard, but it's also genuinely one of their better looking creature designs.
If you're familiar at all with IT before these films, then you already know that the final showdown takes place between the Losers and a gigantic spider. In the book, it was simply the closest the human mind could come to comprehending the nature of the entity. In the TV miniseries it was given little context or explanation and left audiences yawning. Here, it's actually just a giant Pennywise who sprouts some spider-like limbs with stony, stalactite claws, and, well...that's it, really. It allows him to spend the battle speaking, joking and taunting our protagonists, and Pennywise is certainly a memorable part of the film whenever or why-ever he opens his mouth, but they really could have done something more inventive than plopping him down onto a big bug body. He's a lot more interesting when his face temporarily opens up into an eyeless, elongated mouth, but we basically already saw that in the previous chapter. He also produces a tentacle tipped with a snapping ring of teeth during this battle, and it's honestly surprising to me that they chose to keep his familiar clown face for almost the entire confrontation, when erupting him into a more surreal and alien fleshbeast seems like not only the more memorable option, but the kind of thing they would have wanted to do anyway.
IS THIS A SPOILER?
What really steals the climax of the movie are the deadlights, the luminous orbs representative of IT's true form. They're more abstract in the book, of course, more of a "place" than a being, described as a place of "writhing" orange light where all of its past prey are in some way still alive and a part of the entity. This wouldn't have been easy to portray on screen at all, so we get some glowing orbs that wildly fly around one another.
That sounds kind of dull when I type it out, but there's something about the jittery, frantic movements of the lights that I really like, and they offer a couple of especially interesting moments. For one, there's a point at which we can see a luminous connection between them and the back of Pennywise's head, which is gaping open so that his mouth leads to the deadlights. There's also more than one moment in the film in which we see the deadlights illuminating the cavernous shaft formed by their initial arrival on the planet Earth, and wherever their light hits, the cavern appears as pulsing, tooth-lined flesh. That is honestly a kickass visualization of an abstract entity that essentially manifests the entire concept of predation, and a look into the more creative depths of creature design this production could have given us a little more of.
There's one more "monster" to discuss here, too, but it actually appears in the very first twenty minutes of the movie, and if it's something you don't want to read about, you can feel free to skip it.
The presence of IT in the town of Derry, Maine brings out the absolute worst in its populace, with a higher density of abuse and hatred than even any other small, isolated, old-fashioned town would usually entail, and IT: Chapter Two sees fit to open its story with one particular incident from the book in graphic detail. Some people with innocent enough intention will say that the shock and horror of the sequence is a good thing; that the audience should be disgusted by what they see happen here, which is certainly true. They might also point out that being horrified is exactly what you pay for when you go to see a horror movie, and that the scene gives context to the nature of a town possessed by pure evil.
There is, however, a very big difference between a spooky, imaginary boogiemonster and a regular, realistic hate crime. The boogiemonster is an entertaining, exciting kind of horror because it isn't real. The hate crime is something that could really happen to someone walking in and out of that same movie theater that same night, which is not the fun, entertaining or cool kind of scary. Killing off gay people is also nothing new to the horror genre at all, and there's a point at which it stops feeling like a social message and starts feeling more like a cheap prop, like the dog or cat you know is only present so we'll get to see how mean the villain really is.
Don't get me wrong, there have been horror narratives that explored the subject of hatred quite well, but it ISN'T ever explored any further here. In fact, it's never mentioned again and leaves no impact on the storyline other than the fact that it is how Mike discovers that IT has returned. Almost anything could have served this purpose, and the scene is even stripped of additional context and relevance it had in the novel. Ultimately, it just feels poorly handled, overshadows the rest of the film's horror, and didn't do much to really move the narrative forward.
Despite my criticisms - and I do have more that I haven't touched on here - I don't at all regret seeing this movie. It not only had some very memorable visuals peppered throughout and the effective comic relief I already discussed, but the characters were all completely on point. As with the first chapter, the protagonists had a believable, human friendship and truly lovable personalities that were fun to watch and easy to sympathize with. If what you love the most about a movie like this are the characters and their interactions, I don't think you'll be disappointed at all with what were honestly stellar performances from start to finish - not just by the central cast, but damn near every single last extra to offer so much as a single line of dialog.
SO WHAT WAS JUST GOOD?
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