If you have a prevailing fear of clowns, you could do worse than go and see It: Chapter Two. Because, frankly, it isn’t scary, and afterwards you might begin to associate Pennywise himself with boredom rather than terror.
It is only two years since the first instalment of the Stephen King-adapted horror arrived, and it’s hard to determine whether the short gap has served to intensify or lessen the disappointment of this follow-up, which is uneven, unsatisfying and as bloated as its monster’s bulbous head. The narrative picks up with the Losers Club once of Derry, Maine, now scattered and getting on with life in various guises, and with memories largely void of any recollections of the supernatural horrors of 27 years previously – the first film’s events. It is up to Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) to round the old friends up when strange goings-on resume in the town, his the only memory intact, and he has a plan to rid Derry and the Losers of Pennywise for good.
There has been discussion of the opening scene of the film, a violent homophobic assault with little impact on the central narrative, and whether it warrants inclusion. Gruelling as it is, it is one of the only truly horrific moments in the film, and also one of few vividly evoked ideas – that this is a place where horrible things happen, where fear and darkness prevails, and that monsters are as real in the present day as they have ever been.
What follows is at first promising, as we meet the grown-up Losers, including James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader and Jay Ryan, an impressive cast assembled with the ease of a franchise that made $700m first time round. Hader in particular is excellent and relentlessly funny, and the ensemble produce enjoyable performances that compliment the underused Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise, his creepily lilting, sing-song lines always second fiddle to crash-bang scares and visual effects.
Those visual effects are, unsurprisingly, top-drawer and often spectacularly impressive, such as a stylish flashback sequence to an ancient tribe or fortune cookies that become all manner of devilish creepy-crawlies. But the conveyor belt of set-pieces is tiresome no matter how it is executed technically, the middle section of the film consumed by the characters searching for personal tokens of the past in childhood haunts – which turn out to be, of course, haunted, each segment creepy in their own right, but all together becoming drawn-out and formulaic. There are flashbacks to 1989 that only serve as a reminder of something else the film lacks besides a strong story – the ragged innocence of childhood. The adult cast are polished, but even Hader’s gags are less amusing or outrageous than Finn Wolfhard’s as the young Ritchie, while Sofia Lillis’ Beverley has more natural charm than Chastain’s.
At two hours and 49 minutes, It: Chapter Two is much too ambitious to file as a neat popcorn chiller, and director Andy Muschietti never justifies such a baggy running time. The finale is underwhelming, any epic ambitions undercut by the onslaught of the spectacular that took up the previous 150 minutes, and the winking cameos might be worthy of a chuckle but they fail to paper over the movie’s gaping cracks.
The central characters lost all memory of the events of the first It, but out of the two films, you will want to forget this much faster.