2017’s adaptation of Stephen King’s It, by director Andy Muschietti, was an enormous box office hit and at the time of writing is the most successful horror movie ever made. Based on King’s gargantuan monster-mashing masterpiece, the wise decision was made to split the novel into two parts (the damn thing is over 1,300 pages) with It telling the tale of the Losers’ Club as kids and It Chapter Two finishing the yarn 27 years later, with our plucky heroes in their 40s.
Translating the adult parts of the book was always going to be tough, as even the most ardent King fan will likely agree that the children’s chapters are more effective. See, the titular beastie at the heart of It is an ancient shape-shifting, cosmic horror that takes on the form of your worst nightmares. So, for kids, it can be a leper, a scary painting come to life, or a zombified relative. However, adults have different fears entirely, and how do you effectively manifest as a grownup, horror like mortgage repayments, prostate exams or indifferent spouses? Muschietti opts to take Chapter Two in a quite different direction, and while it’s not as elegant as the prequel, it’s effective for the most part.
So, 27 years have passed since It aka Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard) was defeated by the youthful Losers’ Club. Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) is the only Loser not to leave the town of Derry, so it’s up to him to contact Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy), Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain), Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan), Richie Tozier (Bill Hader), Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone) and Stanley Uris (Andy Bean), when it becomes clear the beastie is back and up to its old tricks.
Most of the group go to Derry, albeit with much reluctance, and their mystically-wiped memories return and the terror along with it. For much of the film, we’re with the various Losers as they try to piece together their past, and work out a way to defeat It. James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain both nail their respective roles, and have the most effective journeys in terms of both thematic richness and onscreen horror. In terms of nailing the character, however, Bill Hader absolutely owns Richie Tozier, bringing a hilarious, sweary fatalism to Trashmouth’s glib banter and surprising depth in the back half. James Ransone is at times a wonderful Eddie, however he’s saddled with a couple of sequences that are tonally bizarre, feeling like something from a goofy splatter comedy, which makes his arc a little inconsistent. And, of course, hats off to Bill Skarsgard who once again makes a delightfully bent Pennywise/It, dripping with drool and wall-eyed lunacy, and genuinely fascinating to watch.
Storywise, It Chapter Two is a strange beast. Most of King’s cosmic weirdness was left out of the previous film, which gives this chapter a lot more of the expositional heavy lifting. Ancient rituals, cosmic origins and backstory aplenty are explored to varying degrees of success, leading to a final confrontation that’s pleasingly surreal and emotionally resonant.
Whereas It felt like more of a typical modern horror flick – replete with an overreliance on jump scares and VERY LOUD NOISES – this one hews closer to the likes of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, with hallucinatory elements and a premium placed on conquering personal demons as much as the many gibbering, goggling monsters on show.
Muschietti can be a blunt, unsubtle instrument at times and the script by Annabelle scribe Gary Dauberman isn’t exactly overladen with nuance, however there’s an enthusiasm and willingness to swing for the fences that makes It Chapter Two a messier but more ambitious creation.
After a wonky start, It Chapter Two tells an engaging tale that never feels like it drags, despite its supersized runtime. As an adaptation it follows the spirit, if not the letter, of the book more closely than its predecessor and while it’s never quite as crowd-pleasingly charming, it takes a deeper dive into the psyche of its characters. Bloody, surreal and at times confounding, It Chapter Two is an ambitious slice of cosmic horror bolstered by strong performances, enthusiastic direction and a fantastic (in all sense of the word) monster.
Perhaps in another 27 years we’ll get an even more faithful, ten part adaptation through whatever platform we consume media on, but in the meantime this one here? It’s pretty bloody good.
About a third of the way into Nekrotronic, around the time the protagonists are sending a demon’s soul through a gigantic 3D printer so they can then destroy it with an enormous plasma gun, your brain may ask the question, “what the hell am I watching?” It’s a fair question, because Nekrotronic – the latest offering from Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner (Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead) – is as bullfuck crazy a cinematic offering as you’re likely to see this year. But perhaps a better question is, “am I enjoying the experience?”, because that will very likely be answered with an enthusiastic, “fucken oath!”
Nekrotronic tells the tale of affable-but-luckless sewage worker, Howard North (Ben O’Toole) who through an accident of fate thanks to his app-obsessed co-worker Rangi (Epine Bob Savea) discovers he is, in fact, a powerful Nekromancer and capable of seeing ghosts and battling demons. Howard is roughly taught the tricks of the trade by fellow Nekromancer, Luther (David Wenham) and his daughters, Molly (Caroline Ford) and Torquel (Tess Haubrich). Add to this the evil machinations of super-powered demoness Finnegan (Monica Bellucci), who plans to suck the souls of Sydney’s citizens simultaneously, and you’ve got the zany premise for 97 minutes of fast-paced, neon-hued insanity.
See, Nekrotronic’s story functions more as a video game cutscene, to give brief context for the next section of frenetic, action-packed fun, rather than a ponderous exploration of the world. Which is probably a good thing, because the story is frequently utter nonsense, albeit of an engagingly silly flavour.
The Roache-Turner brothers were clearly weaned on the cinematic teat of George Miller, Sam Raimi and John Carpenter, and the genre-crossing mash-up of The Matrix, Ghostbusters and a heavy helping of 1980s schlock comes together in a joyful explosion of enthusiastic insanity, cheerfully disregarding lofty notions of restraint or logic. There’s an agreeable ‘throw everything at the screen and see what sticks’ enthusiasm to the proceedings, which keeps things lively and unpredictable.
It’s not a perfect film, mind you. The first fifteen minutes are the weakest, with some awkwardly (and likely studio mandated) exposition bogging down the opening and a few attempts at quirky comedy that land with a thud. However, once the training wheels come off, the gleeful lunacy takes over and rarely relents.
Performance wise, Ben O’Toole is an agreeable everyman thrust into a situation beyond his comprehension and Caroline Ford is extremely convincing as a kick arse demon-hunter out for revenge. However, this is indisputably Monica Bellucci’s film and she absolutely nails the role, clearly relishing every goofy second that she’s on screen, chewing the scenery and sucking souls with great alacrity. Bellucci’s performance paired with the stunningly-realised practical special effects from Sydney’s own Make-Up Effects Group, not to mention Kiah’s ambitious, kinetic direction, all combine to make Nekrotronoic look and feel like a film much pricier than its relatively modest budget, and while it lacks some of Wyrmwood’s earthier charms, it frequently dazzles.
Nekrotronic is a deftly directed B-grade midnight movie with lashings of laconic Aussie humour and splattery set pieces. Boasting a vivaciously over-the-top performance from Monica Bellucci, oodles of slime-dripping demons and a clear adoration of 1980s cult cinema, it knows precisely what it wants to be and embraces that identity wholeheartedly. If that’s not your jam you’re unlikely to be converted, but audiences who appreciate that style of lunacy will suck it down like a fresh soul.