Derry is one rotten town. Something has seeped into the ground water, from deep within the earth, and poisoned every houseplant and kindergarten teacher alike. These are the sort of people will turn their head when a young man gets murdered -- they'll scowl at you, and they'll turn off their porch lights when they hear screams. And behind those closed doors -- forget it. Every kid living in their own personal nightmare, reborn every morning and evening and in between anew.
That's what Stephen King's book It is about anyway, but you won't get any sense of that in the second film, the one titled It: Chapter Two that's out in theaters this week -- what you get instead is a bunch of good actors trapped in a series of mirrored magic boxes, tripping from set-piece to screaming set-piece, without any sense of overarching theme. Without a sense of place or history.
It is all about place and history. It's about home, home gone to seed -- weedy patches of sidewalks and clogged sewer pipes, rock quarries where bullies wait with bloody noses. It's about that feeling where you spent all day feeling like shit in school because you're neither the best nor the brightest and you've got no friends, but heading home offers no comfort -- every street corner along the way might bring a foot out to trip you, a slur flung your way.
And then you stand on your doorstep and you don't want to go in. Inside that door there's a mother who smothers you, there's a father who drinks and yanks your shoulder out of its socket. There's a small room buried in one corner, one pocket of temporary relief, but now under the pillow lurks a clown, or a werewolf, or a mummy -- gnarled fingertips curl around the pillowcase as you attempt sleep, whispering it's better nowhere, little boy or girl, come with us to nowhere and nothing, you're nothing.
It is about the helplessness of childhood, and even scarier It is about the feeling all these years later that you're still nothing, nothing but that scared little boy or girl every time you lay down to bed at night. That a word or an image, the sound of a slamming door or an angry man on the sidewalk, can trigger it all back, rendering you small and useless all over again. That everything we've made of ourselves is just a silkscreen standing in front of a bottomless abyss.
It: Chapter 2 isn't really about any of those things, save in spurts and fits. It's mainly an excuse to rush from one room to another room throwing candy and barf at our faces in equal measure. It's a carnival ride spinning out of control really, and I wasn't sure anybody was manning the brakes. Occasionally Bill Skarsgård would pop up and work his magic -- he's so marvelously good as Pennywise it really does defy logic -- but there's even less of him here than there was in the first film. Most of It: Chapter Two is spent straining its adult actors towards the chemistry of the kids, without a lot of success.
And so they drop them into wilder and bigger pop-up shenanigans, with mangled puppies and Thing head spiders and ever bigger balloons. Everybody gets to be an Action Hero if they live long enough is apparently our lesson, although I have to admit that hasn't been my own personal life experience. I feel closer to the old man with the accent selling rusted bikes in town, sitting there waiting for a few nickels to roll in but rather hoping the bell doesn't ring at all today.