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Bill Skarsgard in It Chapter Two.

Warner Bros. Pictures

  • It Chapter Two
  • Directed by: Andy Muschietti
  • Written by: Gary Dauberman
  • Starring: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy and Bill Skarsgard
  • Classification: R; 169 minutes

rating

2 out of 4 stars

It Chapter Two is a film in need of a good ending. How badly it needs that ending is never in question, either. Hell, the movie cries out for help on the subject.

“The film needs an ending!” bellows a pompous Hollywood director named Peter (played by pompous Hollywood director Peter Bogdanovich) early on. The scene serves two purposes, both of which unintentionally underline just how unnecessary, and unsuccessful, this horror sequel is. The first: to wanly introduce the adult version of Bill Denbrough, the young-adult hero of 2017′s It Chapter One who is now a novelist/screenwriter (played by James McAvoy). The second: to allow returning screenwriter Gary Dauberman and director Andy Muschietti to self-consciously cop to being aware of their central narrative dilemma, but also shrug it off by admitting that there’s nothing much either one of them can do about it other than poke fun at their own deficits. Yeah, we all need good endings, but look what we’re working with.

That problematic source material is Stephen King’s massive 1986 bestseller, which was always going to be difficult to translate to the screen, given how its 1,100 pages tracked two different timelines two decades apart (plus all the preteen group sex, but that’s another issue). Initially, it seemed, Muschietti and Dauberman had the right idea by stripping King’s text down to its strongest narrative thread: the battle between a group of childhood friends nicknamed the Losers’ Club against an ancient evil who frequently takes the form of a horrifying clown named Pennywise.

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Kids versus Creep is a simple concept, and it worked, especially thanks to the spirited young cast Muschietti assembled and the director’s talent for amplifying an already scary idea (clowns) into something next-level horrifying (clowns who will rip your heart out for giggles/sustenance). The filmmakers could have left it at that. Just because there is more material to mine doesn’t mean you have to do so. But then the original movie made US$700-million, and so, well, here we are.

It’s this shrug of an attitude that Muschietti also seems to be taking with Chapter Two, so unconcerned the movie seems to be with its scares and so shrug-filled it is regarding everything else. If It Chapter One was terrifyingly effective, Chapter Two is only terrifying in its interminable existence. The longer the film goes on – and at 169 minutes, it does take its time – the more inessential it becomes.

Perhaps it’s because the Losers’ Club just isn’t as interesting a group all grown up and so far away from their childhood energies and eccentricities. There’s the aforementioned Bill (written by King to be one of his more heroic avatars), who’s facing writer’s block on the set of his latest movie adaptation; fashion designer Beverly (Jessica Chastain), who quickly removes herself from a domestic-abuse plot line that feels especially sloppily executed in the year 2019; stand-up comedian Richie (Bill Hader); risk-management consultant Eddie (James Ransone); architect Ben (Jay Ryan); town historian Mike (Isaiah Mustafa); and Stanley (Andy Bean), who isn’t gifted a profession here because, well … readers of the book will understand.

Since the events of the first film, all the Losers except Mike have moved far away from Derry, the postcard-perfect Maine town that Pennywise had terrorized. But now that the town’s children are again turning up missing or murdered, the friends must return to the hellmouth from which they escaped.

The film introduces its adult characters quickly and efficiently enough, but that promise of forward momentum is dashed once you realize that Dauberman and Muschietti are going to spend the rest of their time ticking off boxes. After being briefly reunited, each character is sent off on a side journey, each repeating the same formula: someone wanders around Derry, finds something they remember from childhood, then waits for Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) to come along and scare them into action. Except one of the film’s largest problems is it’s just not that scary.

Partly it’s because Skarsgard is given much more screen time this entry. His performance is committed in its dementedness, but it’s also a case of diminishing returns. The terror of Pennywise is best glimpsed fleetingly. See the clown too many times, and he becomes a familiar joke. But also letting the air out of things is Muschietti’s penchant for CGI scares, where practical effects would be far more effective. The movie’s many monstrosities – a crawling eyeball! a giant spider! an insect with the head of a human infant! – don’t inspire fear. Instead, I could only think of nagging questions, like: how many man-hours did someone spend in front of a computer to create this? And: I wonder what I could do with all that time and money? But also: how long is this movie, again?

When the nightmare becomes a daydream, it is best to call It a day.

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It Chapter Two opens Sept. 6

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