Ready or Not (2019) Review

Watch this as soon as you can…

Ready for a film that is a strong contender for film of the year, or not? It is difficult to be one of the best comedies of the year, and even harder to be one of the best horrors in 2019, with such tough competition. Yet, a case can be made for Ready or Not being the best of both genres. At once both eerie and nonchalant, abhorrent and amusing, this film walks a fine line between comedy and horror with the expertise of an Olympic gold-winning gymnast. The cast, score, and writing are essential for this darkly comic tone. However, this film is more than just a black comedy horror. It really has something to say about class relations in the same vein that Get Out had much to say about race relations. Like the latter modern classic, this film deserves your attention.

Ready or Not maintains a consistently brilliant darkly comic tone throughout. The scene which best encapsulates this is the scene where Grace (Samara Weaving) is driving away and is trying to contact the police. The person on the other end is going through procedure and being typically difficult. Somehow, at the same time, this is both hilarious and tension-raising. Throughout the film, the film oscillates from comedy to horror, and sometimes stays in the middle, with pitch perfect control. One minute it looks like Grace is about to die, the next the person about to shoot her misses and screams, humorously, “FUCK!” in response. The impeccable score, and every single performance, is integral to maintaining this balance between comedy and horror. Grace’s murderous in-laws are all perfectly cast, and their timing is perfect as they tread between the horrifying and the humorously incompetent. This film is better at the comedy side of things, for the horror sections are a bit over-dependent on jump scares and Weaving’s screaming. Nevertheless, it does both genres justice. This is a black comedy horror hybrid at its best.

The cinematography is also essential for creating this comic tone. The opening shot is of a Joker/Green Goblin like figure, suggesting that the sinister and the comic will bleed into one another throughout. We also getting close ups of Fitch’s phone as he searches for “how to use a crossbow” videos and as he asks whether this “pack with a devil” business is “bullshit” or not. It is laugh-out-loud funny, but unnerving when you actually think about it. Without trying to spoil the ending, the closing shot hammers this point home. It is a long take and the last line of dialogue perfectly captures the absurd comic horror of the film .The cinematography is well-considered and an important part of the tone being created.

What makes this film so special, though, is that it really has something to say about class. The “hide and seek” game seems to prove a perfect metaphor for the reluctance of the upper class to allow for breeding between classes. We know this from the wedding. All the characters seem sceptical that Grace will prove good enough for her husband, Alex. Grace points out that there is “no way to for me to win this game”, which seems to refer to her difficulty in being accepted and the game “hide and seek” itself. In fact, the entire family frequently let slip their polite facade to show their disdain for the lower classes. One servant is killed accidentally and they care as much as Vince Vega when he accidentally shot Marvin in the face. “She’s dead? She was my favourite”- it is like he has lost a toy. Why is it so difficult? Why is the upper class so concerned with preserving tradition? The absurdity of this tradition is frequently pointed out in the movie’s funniest scenes, as Fitch points out that he does not even know how to work the crossbow he has been given to go hunting. This film has a lot to say about class relations and it needs to be heard.

If you love Get Out, then you will adore this movie. Both are about the horrific underbelly lying underneath the relationship between two social groups. Both create much tension from a sinister family, which the main character is only just getting to know. That same family is also the source of  humour in both films. Their nonchalance attitude towards murder, and the way they have all accepted something truly horrifying as normal, is another common element to both films. This is the Get Out of class relations.

A few films about the upper class have come out recently: The Souvenir, Downton Abbey, and Ready or Not. This is the one with something to say, though. And what it does say is told masterfully, with expertly timed performances, a fantastic score and smart cinematography. If you are going to see any movie about the upper class this year, see this one, if you’re ready.

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The Kitchen (2019) Review

Wait until you can stream it…

This should work, but it does not. The Kitchen is extremely well-cast, the source material is lauded, and the writer-director was involved with Straight Outta Compton, a highlight of the 2010s. Sadly, it does not. Whilst it does have its moments, one’s overall enjoyment of the film is ruined by a few bad apples.

Most of The Kitchen‘s rotten eggs come from the script. This film is over-saturated with cliched dialogue. It is a wonder Andrea Berloff has not been done for plagiarism: lines such as “trouble will come looking for you”, “we’ve got a problem”, and “we need to talk” have been used so many that they have no impact. People do not talk like this at all. Considering Berloff wrote a standout film of this decade, Straight Outta Compton, it is surprising her script is so lazy here.

Another problem with the script is its structure. Events fly by so swiftly and without any narrative cohesion that the film is hard to follow. It feels more like a montage of different crimes than a woven together narrative. One minute these women are mobsters’ wives. The next they are on top of the criminal network. What does not help is the fact very few of these events gel together tonally. Scenes humorous in tone awkwardly jar with intense and uncomfortable scenes depicting attempted rape and violence against women. Funerals are mixed with laughs. Tone oscillates from the camp to the gritty and never picks a side. Whilst none of these scenes are done particularly badly per se- the use of silence during the attempted rape scene was particularly effective- the way the story is structured means that none of these plot points feel seamlessly connected. The script is the main thing holding this film back.

This is shame because one of the performances is superb and deserved a better script. Elizabeth Moss does a fantastic job conveying the meek and vulnerable side of Claire at the beginning, and effortlessly transforms into a cold killer by the end. Moss tells so much without saying anything at all. Her performance needs to be commended.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the other two leads. Melissa McCarthy’s only emotion in this film seems to be an inauthentic worry/look of concern. Tiffany Haddish is unconvincing as Ruby. Is anyone really intimidated by her? Both performances feel cartoonish, and do not feel like they belong in the same film as the one for which Moss is brilliantly acting.

Not everything feels inauthentic, though. The setting is impressively realised. Both environment and period are brought to life. You can really feel the grime and the neglect of Hell’s Kitchen. Shane Valentio deserves credit for excellent production design. It is hard to believe this film was not made in 1970s New York.

Some of The Kitchen works. In its pantry, you can find an impressive performance from Elizabeth Moss, individual scenes remarkably well-executed, and commendable production design. Sadly, these are paired with poor script writing and cartoonish performances from the other leads. This is a film with plenty of great ingredients, but all of them are thrown together thoughtlessly, with a few bad ingredients added too. As a result, The Kitchen fails to create a recipe that works.

Rambo: Last Blood (2019) Review

Wait until you can stream it…

Rambo: Last Blood is an attempt to update a 1980s action icon for the 2010s. To do this, it borrows heavily from other movies of this decade: the nightclubs and rooftop settings of John Wick, the last stand sequence from Skyfall and the plot of Taken. Unfortunately, in the updating process, the xenophobia of Trump’s America has also found its place in the latest Rambo film. Further, neither the well-written plot, nor Stallone’s mature and moving performance from Creed, find their way into this unpleasant sequel, meaning it has no saving graces.

The portrayal of Mexicans in this film is unsettling, particularly in the current political climate. The whole film comes across as a disturbing Trumpian revenge fantasy, as the heroic American slaughters Mexicans who lie, betray, and commit crimes. Rambo’s niece has a Mexican dead beat father. Of course she does. This film would have you believe there are no good qualities to the people of Mexico. The xenophobia makes this uncomfortable viewing.

The dead beat father sub plot does not even have significance to the plot nor any of the characters; it is merely included as a set up to get Rambo’s niece alone in Mexico. It is clear that the screenplay, co-written by Sylvester Stallone, started off as “Rambo meets Taken” pitch. The rest of the plot is lazily put together in order to reach this point. Paz Vega plays a character who’s sole purpose is to point Rambo in the right direction. The niece wants to show her friends the “tunnels”- is she sixteen or six? The only reason for this scene is to set up the fact Rambo has tunnels under his ranch. Rambo’s mistrust of strangers and foreigners is lazily suggested through clunky flashbacks that do not smoothly integrate themselves into the plot. The plot of this film is essentially a poorly structured set up for a rip off of Taken.

And a rip off of Skyfall too. Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) ends up having to defend his ranch from an army, using rigged traps and a lacklustre fighting style. (The action is completely uninspired.) This conclusion would not be so bad if Stallone offered a likeable performance. He injected humanity and warmth in his portrayal of Rocky in Creed. None of that is to be found here. His only emotions are xenophobic fury and revenge. The relationship with the niece could have been Rambo’s saving grace, helping us to care about him during the final battle at the ranch. Without giving anything away, the one strand helping us root for Rambo is taken away. Instead, we are given corny one liners that are poorly delivered, in a finale that copies Skyfall poorly.

The fifth instalment of this franchise really should not have been released. Its politics are xenophobic and outdated. It is a step back in terms of Stallone’s acting career. The plot is a very thin thread trying to link cool plot points ripped off from better movies, from John Wick to Skyfall. Hopefully the subtitle, “Last Blood”, is a promise Stallone can keep.

Ad Astra (2019) Review

Watch this as soon as you can…

Ad Astra needs to be seen in the cinema. The score and special effects demand it. Even if you do not get round to watching it where it was meant to be seen, there is still plenty to enjoy. James Gray’s space thriller is a character study with an excellent performance from Brad Pitt. The story is as much about his own introspection as it is about exploring the frontiers of space.

Apparently some shots use real photographs of the surface of the moon, but you will not be able to differentiate them from the fake ones. The special effects are convincing. The vast odyssey through space is at its most beautiful and stunning in Ad Astra. Some of the most delightful shots are of the planets as Roy (Brad Pitt) floats past. The planets are fully realised and dwarfing; the cinematography does an outstanding job of reminding us just how small we are in comparison to the gorgeous but intimidatingly expansive void of space. Not for one second are you allowed to believe any of this is inauthentic. The special effects really do justice to the grand ambitions of the film.

This is ironic given that the film is not really about space at all. The quest to Neptune to stop the anti-matter surges threatening life on Earth is just a reason for NASA to get the mission started and the rocket soaring. Once the set up is complete, the film is really about Roy and his relationship with his father (Tommy Lee Jones). There is a Heart of Darkness like quality to the narrative as the journey further into space is more of a journey into Roy’s soul as he succumbs to depression and a withering sense of loneliness. Fortunately, Brad Pitt was cast in this film, who works wonders to ensure this nearly one man film works. Every subtle facial twitch and the sombre pessimism in his narration really convince you that this is a man being destroyed by the black hole of depression. His own sense of inadequacy and alienation are overwhelming him, and Pitt does an excellent job conveying this in his portrayal of Roy. The editing allows for the seamless transition between close ups of Roy’s wearying face and the expanses of the solar system, constantly reminding us that both Roy is undertaking two parallel journeys into himself and into space. Despite spanning the whole of the solar system, the film is about Roy’s introspection and meditation of his life, and Pitt is more than up to the job of carrying this film more or less by himself.

The only thing letting this film down is the pacing. Every exciting piece of action seems to happen in the first two acts. Damn they are exciting though. The moon buggy choice deliberately echoes a wild-west horse chase, as history has rhymed again, and the moon has become the new frontier. The disorientating opening sequence is thrilling to watch, having the gravitational pull to sweep you into the movie’s narrative. The encounter with the research primate is startling and brutal. Critics who have described this film as slow can only be referring to the third act, where the narrative begins to drift rather than drive forward.

One thing that does not slow down, along with Pitt’s powerful performance, is the score. It is delightful and overwhelming. Max Richter has created a score that is haunting, full of emotion, while also elevating the gravity of the situation. As Roy’s isolation increases, and we get further into space, the score proportionally gets more and more impactful. The one criticism that can be thrown at the impeccable score is that it does not surprise. Think back to any space movie, and the score will likely sound familiar. Nevertheless, this style of music is not broke, and Richter did not need to fix it. It remains a pleasure to listen, even if it does not feel particularly new.

Go see this movie at the cinema. For the price of cinema ticket, you are really getting two journeys for the price of one. One journey into Roy’s lonely and crushed soul, and another into the impeccably realised darkness of the outer solar system. With a score and special effects this good, you really a screen big enough to convey its grand scope.

Battle at Big Rock (2019) Review

Watch this as soon as you can…

You have no reason not to watch Battle at Big Rock: it is only eight minutes long and free online. This short film is a satisfying pay-off to the exciting cliff-hanger of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. It imagines how something as normal as a camping trip, a perfectly normal way to spend the summer, can no longer be the same again now the woods are inhabited by dinosaurs (following their release into the wild at the end of the second film). Yet, this film is also more original than most franchise films b taking the form of a short film. It is not necessarily a big risk on Universal’s part, but it is nice to see fresh ideas being brought to the table. Despite not having the usual running time, this film packs in a lot of interesting ideas, character growth and fully-realised, glorious CGI mayhem. 

Of course the cliff-hanger at the end of Fallen Kingdom would lead to a lot of CGI chaos and thrilling action. The CGI is a roaring success. The dinosaurs look as great and as real as ever, which is impressive considering the considerably smaller budget offered to Trevorrow. The action is as thrilling as a sequence from a big budget action film. Trevorrow also makes the superb choice to direct most of the dinosaur vs. dinosaur action through a window, as a family watch in horror. This excellent choice of perspective and camera angles makes a relatively small scale fight between two or three dinosaurs feel like a “battle”. For this family, the stakes could not be higher. The same goes for us. The film may be short, but it offers a lot of excitement, and serves as an exciting follow up to the end of the last film.

Yet, it works as a thriller that can stand alone in its own right. Battle at Big Rock stars Andre Holland, Natalie Martinez, Melody Hurd and Pierson Salvador as a newly introduced blended family. Quickly, they sell the family dynamic. You can that they care about each other, but you can also see the tensions resulting from this “blending” of two families.  They are likeable and our sympathies align with them immediately. Even though we only met them two minutes ago, you do not want them to be eaten by dinosaurs. Further, you really believe their bravery in the face of adversity. This is helped by the use of the triceratops family, which serve as a clever parallel to the human one. The parent triceratops fight the T-Rex first. Their teamwork and fiery defence of their children hint towards Dennis (Andre Holland) and Mariana’s (Natalie Martinez’) own desire to fight later in the film. In only eight minutes, you really get to know the family dynamic, and you are utterly convinced that the parents love their children enough to die defending them.

This is not necessary though, for Kadasha (Melody Hurd) saves the day with a crossbow. Battle at Big Rock proves a tightly structured film, for Kadasha’s actions is not a deus ex machina used to quickly resolve the plot in eight  minutes. It is established earlier that Kadasha has used it before, for Dennis and Mariana get angry at her for it. Kadasha’s use of the crossbow then serves as a moment of education for her parents: they can be proud of her skill and trust her to be mature enough to use such a dangerous weapon. (Well, they should be able to trust her with a crossbow after she saved their lives with it.) For such a short film to be successful, tight structuring is a must. This film provides that.

All good short films must feel like satisfying films in their own right. They must include character development, rising and falling action, and align the audience with the characters. In many ways, it is much harder to do these things without a two hour running time. Yet, Battle at Big Rock succeeds. A worthy follow up to the last film, a promising appetiser for the next one, and a standalone film in its own right, Trevorrow’s short film offers likeable characters, succinct character development and exciting action galore.

Hustlers (2019) Review

Watch this as soon as you can…

Hearing Jennifer Lopez is starring a film has never been a signpost for cinematic quality. Perhaps that will change after the release of her new film, Hustlers, for which she also has a production credit. It is perfectly paced and the editing is impeccably timed, which, along with memorable performances, brings a well-written screenplay to life.

The editing is superb and the pacing is expertly controlled. This film has the swift whistle stop tour journey through corruption, crime and corruption you would expect from a Scorsese movie. Sometimes the cuts come quick and fast, depicting money exchanges and bank transactions. Sometimes the cuts are much longer, with shots tracking the main characters as they stride through their corrupt worlds. Hustlers oscillates between fast and slow effortlessly and it always feels organic. The pacing is masterful. Are we sure Scorsese was not involved?

The dialogue is also Scorsese-level good. It is sharp, scathing and insightful. Immensely quotable too. Some highlights include “this whole country is a strip club” and “hurt people hurt people”. Lorene Scafaria’s screenplay really has something to say and it compels you to listen. Telling the story of a group of strippers who begin amassing huge amounts of wealth by drugging stock traders and CEOS who visit their club, the screenplay and dialogue really capture the moral ambiguities of this true story. Yes, they are stealing, but the people they are stealing from are hardly saints: “they stole from everybody” and caused the 2008 Financial Crash, yet “not one went to jail”,  Jennifer Lopez’ Ramona. The film never fully endorses the stripper’s behaviour as Robin Hood like either, with Constance Wu’s Destiny claiming she should “still feel sorry” for those she has stolen from. It is a morally complex situation in which nobody is one hundred per cent right nor one hundred per cent wrong, and the screenplay is more than up to the task of capturing these ambiguities.

A film is more than just a screenplay, though, and Hustlers would not be such a grand success without such impressive performances. Jennifer Lopez oozes with experience, wisdom and confidence in her performance as Ramona. This is the best performance she has ever given as she portrays Ramona as a convincingly powerful leader. Constance Wu does a wonderful job as the foil to Ramona, Destiny. Pure and innocent, and less world weary, Destiny is everything Ramona is not. The two make for an excellent pairing. Even cameo performances from Cardi B and Lizzo surprise and dazzle, and live up to the high calibre of acting from the rest of the cast. The performances really bring an already brilliant screenplay to life.

If you enjoyed The Wolf of Wall Street, then you will enjoy this film. Everything from the world-weary but surgical dialogue, to the skilfully controlled pacing to a surprisingly outstanding cast suggests that this is a Scorsese film. It is not, by the way. Lorene Scarfaria wrote and directed it. Scarfaria really has something to say with this movie and it deserves to be heard.

Tall Girl (2019) Review

Do not watch this…

Another Netflix original that does not deserve the time of day. Its bones and muscles are made of cliches and easy to predict plot points, making this a teen comedy that does not stand out, particularly in comparison to hits such as Booksmart, which takes the genre forward. The characters are not likeable, and its politics is troubling, and very far behind the times. If Booksmart was two steps forward, Tall Girl is four step back.

This film’s politics is incredibly hard to stomach. Early in the film, Jodi (Ava Michelle) narrates that “you think your life is hard? I’m a high school junior wearing size 13 Nikes. Men’s size 13 Nikes. Beat that.” Yes, being above average height can be isolating and make you stand out in negative ways. Seriously though? Is this as tough as it gets in life? What an ignorant statement. LGBT and African-Americans clearly have it a lot worse in America. Jodi’s friend is even an African American young girl. The film could have taken the opportunity to put Jodi’s insecurities and sense of victimisation into perspective, and to criticise her privileges as a white, affluent woman. It does not. Tall people are not actively discriminated against and do not suffer violence at the hands of other groups. Perhaps this could be forgiven, and portrayed as the immature view of a young girl. The film does not do this. Outrageously, Tall Girl suggests that being tall is somehow as bad as it gets.

You cannot even defend this film by arguing that the lead is likeable. Ava Michelle offers a stiff performance. Jodi only seems to have one facial expression. Further, her character is portrayed as a hypocrite, and this is never counted on. Jodi hates being unable to get the boys, and feeling alienated, as a result of her height. Yet, she judges a guy her age for the equivalent issue: being short. If the film challenged her hypocrisy, and perhaps tried to link height to how we stereotype both genders, then it might have had something meaningful to say. It does not. Her hypocrisy makes her hard to sympathise with.

This film’s one goal is to raise awareness about height discrimination and it fails. only decides to go out with this guy her age after Stig, the one she chases throughout the film, turns out to be a jerk. The short guy is only good enough as a last resort. (This revelation that Stig does not actually care about Jodi is hardly a surprising twist that audiences will not see coming.) Of course, women should be able to choose who attracts them, and who does not. She should not just go with the short guy because he is the only one interested- this is insulting to her. The fact she waits until she has no other options is also an insult to him. This film sets its sights on tackling height discrimination, but wastes its opportunity by portraying being a “tall girl” as the only legitimate form of height discrimination

Its politics are behind the times, but so is the generic make up of the film. There are more cliches than jokes that do not land. Slow motion and bright lighting is used to introduce the protagonist’s love interest. Lead character is so obsessed with one guy that she cannot see the one who truly loves her right under nose. Slow motion pan shot of the bully/antagonist as they walk past. Homecoming is the big event coming up. Seen this all before? Get ready to see it all again.

If only this film was released earlier in the year, before Booksmart. It might feel a lot less dated. Filled with cliches and a politics of victimisation from decades ago, this film does not work in the current cultural and political climate. The lack of likeable characters or strong performances does not help. Skip this film. Do yourself a favour.

The Souvenir (2019) Review

Wait until you can stream it…

Going to art galleries is not for everyone. They are quiet and require a lot of attention and a lot of patience. Joanna Hogg’s latest film, The Souvenir, is (aptly) named after a painting. One cannot help but liken it to the experience of walking through an art gallery. If you have the patience, there is a lot to enjoy, namely the performances and the skilled cinematography.

Ultimately, The Souvenir’s pacing will decide whether you enjoy this film or not. It does not move as quickly as the snap of a camera taking a photograph; rather, it goes as slowly as someone getting their portrait painted. There is no score. Do not expect the memorable theme accompanying Downton Abbey, another British film, released this month, about the upper class. (Although, there are some well-chosen songs in The Souvenir’s  eclectic soundtrack, which ranges from classical music to songs by The Pretenders.) Many of the takes are long and static. Tom Burke’s performance is defined as much by his two words per minute vocal delivery as well as the character’s supercilious nature. This is a film for the patient. If you want a hectic, exciting movie, this is not for you. If you are patient, then there is a lot to enjoy.

The cinematography is meticulous and carefully thought out. Every shot feels carefully chosen so that the film is constantly suggesting ideas to its audience, even when very little is happening on screen. A few examples, from early in the film, depict Julie and Anthony being constantly separated by barriers, whether that be a bed, or a wall. There is always something separating them, as if to suggest that their relationship will struggle to gel together properly.

All of the shots in this film are taken at a distance. There are shots from behind so that we can only see the characters’ backs, shots of their reflections, and shots taken from far away and at an incline. This suggests the privileged bubble these characters occupy. Julie lives in a world completely alien and far-removed from the world she wants to make a film about. Knightsbridge, London is on the opposite end of the class scale from Sunderland. This disconnect between artist and subject is reflected in the considered cinematography.

Honor Swinton Byrne gives a subtle performance as Julie. She is soft and shy. Delicate. She captures her character’s vulnerability and quiet but grand ambition perfectly. This contrasts heavily with the parasitic, arrogant and unlikeable Anthony. Tom Burke does a brilliant job of presenting Anthony as a sinister, toxic inverse of the “Hugh Grant” type. The sharp contrast makes Julie more relatable and likeable. Yes, she is incredibly privileged, but at least she did not turn out like Anthony. Further, their toxic relationship is a struggle which most audiences can relate. Swinton Byrne’s understated and convincing performance rewards the audience for their patience.

This is the portrait of an artist, a filmmaker. It is rather fitting that the film’s title comes from a portrait, then. At times, the film itself feels like a portrait. Honor Swinton Byrne provides a convincing performance, realistically captured by well-crafted direction and cinematography. If you are patient enough, the complete picture is worth the wait.

It: Chapter Two (2019) Review

Watch this as soon as you can…

The first It is overrated. Funnily enough, It: Chapter Two seems like will suffer from the opposite problem, going by the critical consensus. Of course, this film has its flaws. The second act and its over use of the flashback are great hindrances slowing this movie down so that it is nearly three hours in length. Yet, the film still feels like an improvement. The threat is greater and the cast is better. This is underrated second part that gives you more reason to love the franchise as a whole.

The premise of the second part is great, but exploited. The second film is about the Losers’ Club remembering their past. It is a quest narrative, but they are uncovering artefacts from their past. Dealing with their repressed childhood trauma and horrifying memories, according to Mike, is key to defeat Pennywise permanently. Interesting take on the quest narrative. Instead of horcruxes, the group are hunting for memories. However, this premise is also the film’s main downfall. Such a set up requires flashbacks, but Muschietti includes too many that are too long and not always relevant enough. Yes, some of the flashbacks are integral to character development, but many of them feel like they have been done for the sake of nostalgia. Do we really need to see the child version of the Losers’ Club re-enter their old den? We already know the setting’s significance to them. This film is nearly three hours, which is not a problem in itself, but it feels like most of this runtime is dedicated to reusing scenes from the first film, or flashbacks. This film could have done with a more ruthless editor, or Muschietti should not be so reliant on nostalgia. The first It milked society’s fond remembrance for the 1980s, whilst the second one milks nostalgia for the first It. The third act of this film feels like a complete re-tread of the third act from the original too. It: Chapter Two keeps going back almost as a constant reminder that this is the second half of that really popular horror movie from 2017.

Further, the use of the flashback technique is overused. There are other ways to engage with the past using cinematic techniques: a look from an actor, or a piece of music from the past. We do not need an entirely new scene every time a character remembers something. The fact every character has to undergo this process of finding an artefact and remembering their childhood self makes for a really repetitive second act. It plays out like a series of vignettes about each character rather than a cohesive narrative. There are exceptions. Will engages with the past not through flashback, but through a child who reminds him of his dead brother. He becomes obsessed with saving this child because he thinks it will make up for failing to save his brother right at the beginning of the first chapter. This is one of the most interesting parts of the second act by virtue of breaking from the formula of flashback followed by flashback followed by flashback.

However, this film is a huge improvement on the original because Pennywise feels like a much greater threat this time. The second It depicts more death in its opening act than the first It does throughout its entire movie. Perhaps Muschietti should have re-structured the source material so that some of these deaths were in the first one instead. There is a twist towards the end which fits with the theme about failing to grasp with the past properly, whilst also demonstrating Pennywise cannot be killed so easily this time around. Further, the monsters he turns into this time around show off some great character design and impressively rendered CGI. One of the highlights is the granny monster that attacks Beverly. The eyes. The throat in the mouth. Bravo to the designers behind this messed up creature. The stakes are much higher in this film, and that makes it much more gripping.

The second chapter of this adaptation also benefits highly from being about the adult versions of the Losers’ Club. The first one was about children, and it would need a dark, twisted and bold director to depict multiple child deaths, which is likely why Pennywise does not kill many people in the first one. Muschietti is not that director. Killing adults is something Muschietti is a lot more comfortable with, allowing this film to have greater stakes. Further, the fact the characters are adults now allows for a stellar cast. The casting director has done a fantastic job. This chapter boasts performances from the likes of Bill Hader, Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy. All of actors have impeccable timing, balancing the humour they find together as a group and their outright terror in response to Pennywise. Also, they are all utterly convincing as their characters. They look and act like the child actors from the first film, making it seem like Muschietti actually waited 27 years to film this second part with the same actors. Of course, he did not. The casting director found a remarkable cast to make up for that, though.

This film is a huge improvement on the first movie. A rare sequel that surpasses the original. Whilst the premise of characters remembering the past, and the use of flashbacks, are overused it is almost excessive, It: Chapter Two improves upon the original film by giving us a more threatening Pennywise and a star-studded ensemble cast to make up for it. It is ironic. For a film about the past, and a film where the past is used to exploit our nostalgia for the first part, its best moments come when it finally moves onto the present.

Retrospective Reviews: It (2017)

Wait until you can stream it…

It: Chapter Two is released today. There are a lot of people who are excited about the release of this movie. Who knows why. Its predecessor does have its moments, but it is ultimately overrated. Andy Muschietti is back for the second instalment, so we are likely in for more of the same: a film reliant on character chemistry and ineffective at scaring. If you want an impressive horror movie, go watch Get Out or Hereditary.

The Losers’ Club is the biggest draw in this 2017 horror film. The young cast are as impressive and likeable as the cast of Stranger Things (in particular Lieberher, Lillis, and Wolfhard). You cannot help but relate to them, and the film’s greatest moments come from their attempts to safely manoeuvre through their teenage years, and various forms of abuse. It is refreshing to see so many child actors capable of carrying a movie without an adult lead (even Stranger Things has two adult leads). For older viewers, the backdrop of the 1980s summer, golden in hue, will also provide a lot of nostalgia. These characters are why the second part is still on the watchlist for this blog.

However, unlike Stranger Things, these kids are not up against a particularly frightening antagonist. Pennywise, the villainous child-murdering clown, looks nothing like the actor playing him, Bill Skarsgård. The only thing Skarsgård can really bring to the performance, due to how Pennywise looks being so heavily influenced by makeup and CGI, is his voice. His voice is not sinister nor scary. It is too faint and unimpressive. In his defence, the smile is creepy. He has found the perfect smile to unnerve even the bravest of viewers. The excessive use of CGI proves a hindrance, though. Pennywise is constantly morphing into uninspired and not particularly frightening monstrous shapes. The creepiest thing about him, the smile, is perpetually lost in a landfill of CGI nonsense. Nothing is left to the imagination. Sometimes what is implied is scarier and more subtle than anything that can be depicted visually. The scene where the younger brother is eaten at the  start would have been more effective if done off screen. A few screams and bloody tears paired with a close up of someone looking on in pure horror can go along way- and it is  cheaper too. This film allows for no such subtlety.  If you want scary, unsettling visuals and gore, go see Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark instead. Further, Pennywise’s run is  ridiculous. No wonder Reddit made it a meme. Pennywise is not an effective antagonist.

This is not helped by the uneven tone of the film. Wolfhard’s Richie is constantly making jokes and starting banter with the other characters. Are they not supposed to be fearing for their lives? Maybe not. The fact only one child dies at the hands of this child-murdering clown (he had one job and he blew it) further undermines the supposedly eerie and terrifying tone of the film. The climactic showdown between the Losers’ Club and Pennywise is extremely uplifting and inspiring as the characters face their fears and excommunicate Pennywise from their neighbourhood, without any casualties, no less. In isolation and without context, this scene is great and evokes a sense of pride in the strength of these kids. Yet, this film is setting up a sequel, the Chapter Two that was released today. How are we expected to take Pennywise seriously as a threat to a group of adults if a group of kids were able to beat him with ease? Unless the filmmakers are able to account for this, Pennywise will not be a threatening villain in the sequel either.

It: Chapter Two is still on the watchlist. It will be reviewed when the opportunity to see it arises. However, excitement to see this second instalment is low. It will be nice to meet with the Losers’ Club again, but Andy Muschietti needs to have worked out how to actually scare people if the second film is to be a success.