They say the book is better, and most of the time, they are right. It’s nearly impossible to replicate the visions, time lapses, and shadows one conjures while reading a good book, especially the masterful horror fiction of Stephen King.
The shadows are the most important element, I think. In the midst of reading and mentally manufacturing a setting, shadows appear in familiar places that aren’t normally there in real life. Our imagined world – aided by the articulate prose of Stephen King – forms itself out of light, only to be darkened one chapter at a time. King’s best works “darkened” the most light from 1975 to the late 90s. It was in the wheelhouse in 1986 and remains one of the scariest reads of my life…
“Now there were shadows bobbing on the wall above him. The terror leaped down Stan’s throat all at once – it was like swallowing something hot and horrible, bad medicine that suddenly galvanized you like electricity. It was the shadows that did it.”
The question remains: How does the bias and imagination of a movie director translate on to the screen for the book reader who already has an invented world inside his or her head?
Tommy Lee Wallace’s 1990 TV Mini-Series did the novel quasi justice, mainly because of Tim Curry’s diabolical and tangible interpretation of Pennywise, the clown. Although Wallace followed the book truest to form, his ensemble of actors (save John Ritter) could have used another semester of acting class. To this day, this series remains cultish in a way – favorable for nostalgic purposes but unsatisfying enough to make the viewer want to read the book again.
Andy Muschietti’s It (2017) and It Chapter Two (2019) sequence makes bold and arbitrary additions to King’s work, and these alone are worth evaluation. However, his overall product can only succeed so far as a horror movie because it’s missing the horror-provoking atmosphere. It’s missing the shadows.
It Chapter Two’s plot propels off its 2017 predecessor as our protagonists, “The Losers,” are now 27 years older and devoid of any memory of the Pennywise-induced terrors they experienced during their coming of age years in Derry, Maine. One by one, each character digs into the past, and per trademark location, encounters his or her version of fear (the “It”) in an exposition to shock scene format. Most of the “shock” arrives in a computer-generated incarnation, and, in most cases, this “monster” interpretation is exacerbated beyond anything King originally intended. At least in my experience, the result earns more laughs than gasps in the theatre.
To me, the empty, muggy sewer cistern alone is horrific. These abandoned, avoided, and cemented armpits in America have “do not enter” written all over them. This is sufficiently spooky enough for me, but Muschietti has to write “Come Home” in splashes of cartoonish blood on the cement wall not just once but three times to drive home his message to the viewer. The grandma who inhabits Beverly Marsh’s (Jessica Chastain) childhood apartment is creepy enough in the book with her bloody teeth and feces-littered tea, but Muschietti literally transforms her into an all too CGI-looking “Gollum” beast that feels like it should be in another movie (and The Lord of the Rings seems like a good fit). Lastly, what was up with the black tar regurgitation scene to “Angel of the Morning?” (This is not a spoiler because this scene couldn’t be anymore irrelevant.)
I admit, I am a minimalist when it comes to horror movies. The imagination alone does the work when it comes to “seeing” what’s behind the door. A good movie will just show the shadow of the lurking mystery. It Chapter Two not only shines a light on the beast, it blows it up beyond relatable proportion, swiftly transforming itself into a cartoon with characters used more as hostages in their director’s vision.
It Chapter Two (2019) **1/2 out of *****
The best shadows found in movies are in Nosferatu (1922), The Exorcist (1973), Don’t Look Now (1973), Jaws (1975), The Blair Witch Project (1999), and The Babadook (2014).
Regardless of whether or not these are literary adaptations, these films invoke doom through the tangible, ambiguous, insinuated, and shadowy. Director Muschietti’s recent It series as a whole celebrates and instills Stephen King horror on a surface level and the all too obvious, while lacking the depth of true evil. This is the kind of evil Stephen King wrote about in the first place, and perhaps, it’s left best on the page.