Flabby throwback to prequel



169 minutes/Opens today/ 2 stars

The story: Twenty-seven years after the events of the first movie, It (2017), Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), the only member of the Losers Club to remain in the town of Derry, notices a horrific pattern re-emerging, as everyone in the club had feared. Even if he can persuade the members to return, can they finish the job of destroying the evil that takes the form of Pennywise the clown?

The first movie did well at the box office.

People loved the kids, so someone at the studio cried, it would be such a pity to get rid of them. So they are back, in sequences that interrupt the "adult" section set in 2016.

So what kind of movie flits between the present day and the past? A melancholic meditation about the sweet sadness of lost youth, someone chirped, so now that is in there too.

And since this is a sequel, it should be louder, bloodier and more monster-y than the original, and someone gave that idea a huge thumbs-up.

So there it is: a flabby, nearly three-hour affair where everything matters so therefore, nothing does.

This film, in contrast to the grown-up characters at its core, is so much in love with its past, it cannot think of a different future.

Director Andy Muschietti, who worked on the first movie, pays homage to Poltergeist (1982) and The Thing (1982), with visuals that recall the splashier elements of the classics.

Curiously, his curation ignores the things that made those classics great: suspense and dread.

The only creepy scene occurs when Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) is being himself, a sad clown, trying to lure a child into his lair.

Mostly, he takes on gonzo science-fiction proportions. When that happens, the mood is cartoon-like. Is that tone of silliness deliberate? It is hard to say.

One thing that is clear is Pennywise is scariest when he attempts to wear a human skin - in the manner of a serial killer passing for a "nice guy".

The creature at the centre, dubbed It by those who know of its existence, is the ultimate predator, blessed with the power of shape-shifting and who knows what else.

Unkillable foes with unlimited power create story paradoxes that are tricky to resolve. And resolve them in a satisfactory way is what this story does not do.

The idea of evil as the embodiment of inner trauma is touched on briefly, then discarded, as are ideas about the town's inherent sourness that manifests itself in toxic conservatism. The same happens with ideas about memory loss and its effect on identity.

On the plus side, there is obvious chemistry among the adults, played by, among others, James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain and James Ransone.

Care has been taken to have the adults resemble the child actors, especially in the case of Ransone who, as the adult Eddie, carries the same coiled-spring energy radiated by child actor Jack Dylan Grazer.

Breaking away from the kids-on-bikes 1980s vibe would shave an hour off the punishing running time.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2019, with the headline 'Flabby throwback to prequel'. Print Edition | Subscribe