Stephen King

IT Chapter Two

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It’s been twenty-seven years since the Losers’ Club thought they defeated Pennywise the clown. Now, he’s back and taking children again. The friends are called back to reunite in Derry to try to stop It once again. As they remember their past, the old friends will have to face the monster head-on to break the cycle and save the children of Derry… and themselves.

The second half of Stephen King’s legendary novel is yet again brought to life in IT Chapter Two by screenwriter Gary Dauberman (The Nun, Annabelle Comes Home) and director Andy Muschietti (IT [2017], Mama). The film begins right where the previous film left off, with the Losers’ Club together in the field right after defeating Pennywise for the first time. After seeing a sign from Pennywise, the only person in the group to have stayed in Derry, Mike, calls his friends and reminds them of the promise they made all those years ago. From there the film weaves back and forth between the past and the present as each member of the group is called and brought home, then as their long-forgotten childhood memories finally come back to them. The way the plot is integrated with past and present is done perfectly in a way that still allows the film to naturally flow and move forward.

Dauberman and Muschietti do a fantastic job of including the important scenes and aspects of the source material, while still giving audiences something new. It allows the filmmakers to capture the spirit and feel of the book, even if it is not an exact adaptation. In several scenes, fans of the book will recognize what is happening. Yet there are still many exciting new things that did not come from King’s novel. Some of the changes were entire scenes, while others were more subtle, but impactful changes in the characters. One specific aspect of the novel I know many people were curious to see in the film is the “ritual of Chud.” Without giving away too many details, they do reference the ritual and have it in the film, but it might not be quite what fans of the novel expect. The climax of the film is thrilling, frightening, and heartbreaking. It pays homage to King’s work, but changes things up in order to give fans something unexpected and new.

Considering the IT Chapter Two has an almost three hour run time, somehow the film still felt like it went by very quickly. This is great because it means that, despite the long run time and everything they are able to include, the film is exciting and intriguing enough to keep the audience interested. Yet it also almost feels like many aspects of the film were simply brushed over instead of giving them the more in-depth look they deserved. Considering the length of the source material and how much the filmmakers were able to include in the film, I still applaud this cinematic achievement.

Fans of the first film were likely blown away by the kids’ performances. The adults in IT Chapter Two are no different. Of course, everyone knew James McAvoy (Split, Dark Phoenix) and Jessica Chastain (Mama, Molly’s Game) as adult Bill and Bev would be phenomenal. Jay Ryan (Beauty and the Beast, Terra Nova), who plays adult Ben, is one of the least known actors in the Losers’ Club. What makes his performance so great is how much he is able to convey more than words can with just a look, even when the camera is focused on other characters. James Ransone (Insidious, Generation Kill) is perfect casting as adult Eddie and comes across as the same person as the child we saw in the first film. One of the most surprising performances comes from Isaiah Mustafa (Chuck, Shadowhunters) as adult Mike. He is unrecognizeable as the “Old Spice guy” in this role. Not only does his character get more spotlight than his younger counterpart in the first film, but Mustafa is clearly up to the task and shines in the role. All of these actors are fantastic, but Bill Hader (Trainwreck, Barry) as adult Richie will be the one audiences remember most. Hader is absolutely hilarious, adding some great laugh out loud moments in the middle of the most tense moments. Yet what makes his performance so amazing is the emotional depth he conveys beyond the humor on the surface. Last, but not least, it is important to mention Bill Skarsgård (Castle Rock, IT [2017]) as Pennywise the clown. Just like his performance in the first film, Skarsgård manages to play what is likely the most terrifying clown in movie history.

Between practical effects, CGI, sets, and Easter eggs, IT Chapter Two has many stunning visual elements. As with the first film, the many terrifying creatures and characters IT appears as are a fantastic combination of practical effects and CGI enhancement. The two modes combine seamlessly to create some of the most shocking, disgusting, and frightening imagery. The filmmakers utilize familiar sets from the first film, such as the barrens and the house on Niebolt Street, but also incorporate gorgeous new ones. Some of the most memorable sets are the elegant old inn and the place deep underground where the final showdown takes place. The film also utilizes some really fascinating transitions. These transitions allow the filmmakers to maneuver from the past to the present and back again in unique, beautiful ways.

One of the most intriguing visual aspects of IT Chapter Two is the many Easter eggs hidden throughout. Some of these are characters in the film with small cameos, including Muschietti himself and the actor who played young Ben in the 1990 IT miniseries, Brandon Crane, and one cameo I will leave as a surprise. Other Easter eggs are references to the 1990 IT and other popular films from the 80’s. One especially memorable moment is a creature that is a combination of practical and CGI effects that appears to be an Easter egg or homage to John Carpenter’s The Thing.

IT Chapter Two is a thrilling and heart-felt conclusion to the story of our favorite losers that captures the feel of King’s novel while still giving us something exciting and new. Muschietti and Dauberman clearly know how to tell a compelling story that has a strong emotional core, amazing sets and effects, tons of scares, and even more laughs. They also honor King’s work by creating this cultural phenomenon of a film for horror fans and non-horror fans alike to adore. Every single actor embodies the characters they play in a way that reminds us of the children from the first film. And, of course, Skarsgård still brings the terror with his unique and terrifying portrayal of Pennywise. Purists who want an exact adaptation of the book or fans who are devoted to the miniseries may not be thrilled by the film, but this film is undoubtedly one of the horror highlights of 2019.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

Pet Sematary (2019)

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The Creeds move to a rural farmhouse in Maine to live a simpler life away from the city. They soon discover that a burial ground sits in the woods on their property where children bury their beloved pets. Yet it’s what lies beyond the little pet cemetery they should be worried about.

Depending on how you look at the film, it is both an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel and a remake of the 1989 film of the same name. This latest iteration is written by Jeff Buhler (The Prodigy, Midnight Meat Train) and directed by duo Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer of Starry Eyes fame. While the film is based on Stephen King’s book, it took some liberties in the plot to create something a bit new for audiences. One thing this film did a great job of is capturing the mysticism of the Micmac burial ground beyond the pet cemetery. This is done by including a lot of the mythology from the book that was lost in the 1989 film such as the history of the land, the eeriness of the journey to the burial ground, and the legend of the wendigo. The filmmakers also emphasized the eeriness of this place through atmosphere and tension. It captures this aspect of the book very well while also conveying the grief the Creed family experiences after losing a child. Fans of Stephen King will notice a few cleverly placed Easter eggs along the way as well. These nods to the original literature, and to King himself, show the audience the filmmakers are doing their best to honor the source material, even though there are a few major changes to the plot.

Another successful aspect is the terror the film brings. Most of this is achieved through artistic means. The strange atmosphere of the swamp and the burial ground often is shrouded in darkness and made eerie with fog and strange noises. This is thanks primarily to fantastic set design and beautiful cinematography. From the pet cemetery itself to the Micmac burial ground, it is quite haunting to look at and only gets more eerie as the film progresses. The practical effects of the film are also absolutely stunning. The makeup effects for the living dead characters, even Church the cat, are perfectly done and utterly frightening. While I believe the daughter would be very disfigured after the crash we see on screen, I do still love how they were able to make her skin look gaunt and translucent with blue veins showing through the skin. The makeup effects on Zelda, who fans of the book and 1989 film will no doubt remember, are especially grotesque. They managed to not only make Zelda one of the most terrifying aspects of the film, but they did it both with amazing prosthetics and simply through the sounds she makes. It all combines to make a nightmarish film.

While I believe Pet Sematary does a great job of creating a dark and frightening film focusing on the burial ground, there are certain aspects of the plot that don’t work as well for me. One of the biggest issues is simply poor advertising. While I know this isn’t necessarily the fault of the filmmakers, it is still enough of a problem to be worth mentioning. In the film there are two parts where there is great effort and time put into building up certain scenes. This build up is always a reference to the 1989 film, leading the audience to expect one thing to happen, before suddenly having something unexpected happen. This is a brilliant tactic, yet the advertising ruined it. In both of these instances the “big twists” were already revealed in the trailer. I can only imagine the shock audiences would have experienced if these aspects had been kept under wraps. It ends up taking all the tension out of the scenes because we already know the scenes aren’t going to end up the way they appear. Another problem I have with the film is simply how it ended. I won’t get into specifics, but I will say not only did the film just end on an odd note, but I also feel like it completely negates the mythology created by King. This mythology is even referenced towards the beginning of the film, making the ending fall flat.

It is difficult not to compare the 1989 film to the 2019 Pet Sematary, especially when it comes to the acting. The 1989 film is great, don’t get me wrong, but there are some highly overacted moments. Luckily, this film has outstanding performances. Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty, Everest) plays Dr. Louis Creed. The emotion behind Clarke’s performance is heartbreaking to watch. Louis is such an endearing, although misguided character, and Clarke portrays him very well. The true breakout star of the film is Jeté Laurence (The Snowman, The Ranger) as Ellie Creed. The change in Laurence’s performance between when Ellie is alive vs undead is absolutely shocking and breathtaking. It is almost as if it is two different people playing the same character. More fantastic performances come from John Lithgow (Interstellar, Twilight Zone: The Movie) as the kindly old neighbor Jud and Amy Seimetz (Alien: Covenant, You’re Next) as the death-fearing wife Rachel Creed.

Pet Sematary manages to breath some new life into a story horror fans know and love. Kölsch and Widmyer’s directing skills perfectly capture the mystical elements present in King’s book, as well as the grief of losing a loved one. The film fell prey to some very poor advertising choices, revealing the secrets of the updated plot all too soon. On top of that, the ending is a very odd choice that will most likely polarize many lovers of the book and original film. I for one, thought the ending was a bizarre choice that didn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the film. Luckily, the amazing scares, gorgeous practical effects, and superb performances are incredibly enjoyable to watch. These successful elements make Pet Sematary a must-watch film.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

IT (2017)

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Every 27 years people in the town of Derry, ME go missing, especially children. Sometimes pieces of them will be found here and there. Bill’s younger brother, Georgie, is among the missing. As Bill and the rest of the “losers’ club” try to find Georgie they begin to see strange and horrifying things. Each of them have seen the same clown. Pennywise is back, and he is hungry.

Almost every horror fan has seen the IT mini series that premiered on TV back in 1990. While the film overall might not be considered a masterpiece, few can deny that Tim Curry as Pennywise the clown is one of the most iconic horror villains of all time. When most people think back to the 1990 adaptation of IT, Curry is usually what people remember. The announcement of a new adaptation created a rumbling of mixed reviews from fans. Many had negative things to say about the prospect of someone other than Curry playing the infamous clown. Others were open to the idea of a new IT film or even excited to see what a new team could do with the story. While the film had some controversial moments during its making, I believe fans will ultimately be pleased with the finished product.

While it is difficult to not constantly compare the two versions of IT, I will do my best to focus on the new material. The filmmakers are very wise to have IT take place in the nineteen-eighties. This allows them to draw inspiration from kid adventure films of the eighties such as The Monster Squad, The Goonies, and Stand By Me  – and benefit from the recent success of Stranger Things. This time period is also a wise decision because it means the next installment of IT, which will focus on the protagonists as adults, will take place in our present day. It makes the story more accessible to current generations of horror fans while still allowing the film to have the same plot points and interesting characters fans know and love.

There are two particular aspects of this film that exceed my expectations. First, it is downright hilarious. We know that IT involves a healthy amount of humor, especially from the character of Ritchie. This film was much more humorous than I expected, and the humor came from multiple different characters. This is largely because the jokes are more inappropriate and adult, much like the kinds of jokes you would expect boys that age to make. The stand out comedic moments came from the characters Ritchie, Ben, and Eddie. The second successful aspect is the violence. As odd as this may sound, the simple fact that the filmmakers show extreme violence towards children makes me enjoy the film more. Not many films, horror or otherwise, have the guts to show children being attacked and mutilated. Yet, in real life, kids get hurt just as much as adults do. The filmmakers do not hold back on the violence, no matter who it is directed towards. It raises the stakes and makes it clear to the audience just how much peril these kids are in. It can be jarring to see, but it adds a bit more realism to this otherwise fantastical horror film.

The entire cast of the losers’ club, as well as Pennywise himself, are perfect in IT. Jaeden Lieberher (The Book of Henry) leads the losers’ club as Bill. Lieberher does a great job with Bill’s stutter in a way that is subtle and natural sounding. He clearly has the most heart of the group, and Lieberher conveys that very well. Jeremy Ray Taylor (42) plays the new kid, Ben. What I love about Taylor’s performance is how he portrays Ben as somewhat naive and a hopeless romantic. Sophia Lillis (37) shines as Beverly, the lone female of the group. Lillis manages to make Beverly both the strongest and most fragile character of the film. Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) is absolutely hilarious as Ritchie. He lands virtually every joke effortlessly and keeps the audience laughing throughout the entire film. Chosen Jacobs (Hawaii Five-0) plays the homeschooled outsider, Mike. While I wish the character of Mike had been in the film a bit more, Jacobs still makes him an interesting character to watch. Jack Dylan Grazer (Tales of Halloween) surprised me the most as germaphobic Eddie. I never thought of Eddie has a very comedic character, but Grazer has the audience laughing almost as much as Wolfhard. Wyatt Oleff (Guardians of the Galaxy) plays the most reserved character in the losers’ club, Stanley. Stanley clearly is the most frightened of the group, and Oleff excellently portrays that fear. Finally, we have Pennywise himself, played by Bill Skarsgård (Atomic Blonde). This is not only the most disturbing and frightening portrayal of Pennywise, but of any horror film clown I have ever seen. Skarsgård oozes malice with a simple look, and his movements and speech only emphasize the evil in this stunning performance.

The look for Pennywise in this adaptation of IT is fantastic. The makeup is unnerving and only adds to the evil clown we know and love. Skarsgård exaggerates the creepy makeup by having unnatural, quick, jerking movements throughout the film. When it comes to the scares, I am impressed by how few jump scares there are in the film. Typically Pennywise is shown before any kind of attack happens, so you know the scare is coming. Instead, it is the anticipation of what will happen that keeps audiences on the edge of their seat. It makes for some truly horrifying moments, yet the simple moments of Pennywise speaking to the kids and moving in odd jerks are some of the most sinister scenes I have seen in a horror film. Unfortunately, the filmmakers choose to break many of those moments with shaky camera work and Pennywise wreaking havoc. It makes for intense moments, but sometimes less is more when it comes to scares. These scenes also tend to involve a hefty amount of CGI as well, even on Pennywise himself. Logistically it is clear why CGI is used, but I wish the filmmakers had scaled back a bit and relied more on the practical makeup.

IT (2017) is one of the most successful adaptations of any Stephen King novel to date. There are still some flaws to it, like the heavy CGI use and the lack of trust the filmmakers have in Pennywise being terrifying without any gimmicks. Yet it is impossible to ignore the stellar performances, the more frightening and dangerous situations with the kids, and the chemistry between each and every member of the losers’ club. On top of that, I believe audiences get a truly sinister villain that is more terrifying than the original (Sorry, Tim Curry, I still love you though). This film is a must see for any horror fan.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

The Dark Tower

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A young boy is consumed by his strange dreams. He sees a tower, a man in black who seeks to destroy the tower, and a gunslinger who seeks revenge. The dreams lead him to another world that has been ravaged by the man in black. He must find the gunslinger and aid him in defeating the man in black. If they fail, the tower will fall. If the tower falls, darkness will consume our world.

To start off I will say that I have never read The Dark Tower by Stephen King. I had no frame of reference going into this film so I had little to no expectations. Even with no expectations I still feel nothing but disappointment and confusion when thinking about The Dark Tower film. The film had such promise. It has a great cast, a big Hollywood budget, and (from what I understand) amazing source material. The number one issue with The Dark Tower is not only does it not follow what is written in the book, but it also creates this entire grand mythos without actually explaining any of it. The audience is introduced to the man in black and the gunslinger, but we don’t really learn anything about who or what they are and the motivations behind their actions. The audience is shown skin-stealing creatures who work for the man in black, but it is never explained what they actually are. There are entirely new worlds that are somehow connected by portals and the tower, but viewers never learn how this connection works. The film is only an hour and 35 minutes long. The fact that the filmmakers didn’t take an extra half hour to better develop the characters and the world they created is mind-boggling.

The effects of the film also leave much to be desired. The choice to use CGI throughout the film doesn’t bother me. With the world they are trying to create it is the most logical option. What does bother me is that there appears to be little effort put into these effects, making many scenes look like something from a made for TV movie instead of the blockbuster hit this film was supposed to be. The climax of the film is where the flaws are the most glaringly obvious. The final scenes look ridiculous, taking out any excitement or suspense, and the entire sequence of events is simply too brief. This is just another example that shows how a little more time and a bit more effort could have greatly improved the film.

The actors were one of the few positive aspects of The Dark Tower. The material the had to work with was thin, but the leads all did what they could with it. Idris Elba (Prometheus, Thor) did his best to make the gunslinger, Roland, as interesting and complex as possible. This is no easy thing to do with what Elba had to work with, but his talent still shows through the muck and the mire. It is clear that Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar, Dallas Buyers Club) has the potential to make an incredible villain. There are moments in his portrayal of Walter, who is also known as the man in black, where McConaughey expertly portrays the evil within. Sadly, the writing of his character and the way he is directed in certain scenes keep McConaughey from rising to his true potential. Tom Taylor (Broken Hearts, Doctor Foster) is probably the most developed character as the young Jake. This gave Taylor more opportunity to show his acting skills and to portray an enjoyable character, as far as the writing allowed. My one note for Taylor is that there are times where his accent breaks through, especially when he says the word “gunslinger.”

I want to like this movie. It is overflowing with potential and it creates a universe that I want to learn more about. The Dark Tower has an interesting premise and phenomenal actors. Unfortunately, not only will fans of Stephen King’s book leave wondering where the story they know and love went, but people who have never read the books will likely leave even more confused. There are simply too many plot points and characters that are not fully developed. The best part of The Dark Tower is hunting for the other Stephen King Easter eggs hidden throughout the film. If you plan on seeing this film I will say it will probably be more enjoyable on the big screen than on your television at home, but The Dark Tower isn’t a film I would go rushing to the theaters to see.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10