Stephen King’s nearly 12,000 page epic ‘Moby Dick of horror’ returns to the screen with its second installment, once again directed by Andy Muschietti. While losing some of its previous spontaneity and surprise through its focus on the adult cast and the minor treatment of the original stars, “It: Chapter Two” still manages some charge mainly through the scary and compelling figure of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) and the talents of Jessica Chastain.
This second chapter begins where the first left off. The terrifying supernatural clown-shaped force is at it again now in the 21st century and there are more deaths of minors combined with the plainly unlucky.
The clown-buster kids are now all grown up (much to the dismay of this sequel). Comic Bill Hader plays wiseguy Richie Tozier. James McAvoy is the angst ridden Bill Denbrough who used to stutter and Jessica Chastain is Beverly Marsh, the empathic and kind red-haired girl with whom everyone is infatuated, especially the chubby and very likable Ben Hanscom, now played by Jay Ryan as a handsome athletic type who has lost quite a bit of weight.
The gang has a wonderful time reuniting despite some initial scares. All of them previously became nauseous with fear. No matter, it is now the era of the iPhone and they are settling down to a Chinese feast. But watch out for those fortune cookies…
During the after dinner conversation, the gang gets more than they asked for.
The friends quickly become aghast and horrified realizing that It—a bloody murderous force—has re-energized.
The Loser’s Club tries to come up with a solution; there is cause for a childhood ritual. It, the shape-shifter is a cosmic force and it is nearly unstoppable.
There is some good acting. Both Hader and Chastain are excellent because we can see the child within. A highlight is Joan Gregson as a terribly spooky aged lady. There are also some arresting visuals, notably the restaurant scene which features some visuals inspired by painter Hieronymus Bosch or H.R. Giger. And Skarsgård is terrific as the frightful Pennywise, although he is a clown of very few words.
Where the film suffers is in its focus on the adult characters, who are not nearly as interesting as their child counterparts. Most of the adults are preoccupied with going from place to place and there is little in between. It all becomes a short attention span festival with one quick fright-face after another.
Fans will cheer for the cameo of Stephen King as a nonchalant antiques dealer (in addition to director Peter Bogdanovich as, what else, a director) but for the most part the film becomes a noisy rush.
When the team conducts a kind of séance with its focus on rotten boards, hidden doors, zombies and skulls, the film plays like a silly scene from “The Goonies” rather than something truly scary. Too many transformations involve rotten flesh and become repetitive. An exception is the drain sighting by an adult Bill Denbrough, who is overcome with guilt. There is real haunt.
While the final third of the film feels like “Ghostbusters” and the overly corny “The Goonies,” it is Pennywise alone who has one last fine moment: deflated in his power, the clown becomes a tiny mewling baby in Victorian dress. The effect is both macabre and poignant.
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