Director Andy Muschietti returns to helm this conclusion to It, Stephen King’s tale of a metamorphosing monster that preys on the fears of children. Lone scribe Gary Dauberman (The Nun, Annabelle Comes Home) takes up screenplay duties without Chapter One writers Chase Palmer and Cary Fukunaga, and his worst tendencies towards mechanical scares rage against the trickier second half of the source novel, which sees the seven children of the Losers’ Club called back to Derry, Maine, twenty-seven years since their first encounter with ‘It’.
Taking up the mantle of their younger selves are Jessica Chastain (Beverly), James McAvoy (Bill), Bill Hader (Richie), Jay Ryan (Ben), James Ransone (Eddie), Andy Bean (Stanley) and Isaiah Mustafa (Mike). Mike has remained in Derry for the past three decades while his friends have all left for big cities and successful jobs – Richie is a stand-up comedian, Ben is the CEO of a large company; Bill is a novelist who has outgrown his stutter but, crucially, is terrible at writing endings.
The latter seems particularly pertinent – It: Chapter Two posits itself as a definitive ending, something of a rarity in a contemporary horror landscape rife with sequels and spin-offs. Unfortunately, this sequel so often falls prey to the pitfalls its predecessor so deftly avoided that it’s often indistinguishable from your average entry in the Conjuring franchise.
After a lengthy series of introductions, our plucky heroes return to the town that birthed their nightmares to find the spectre of Pennywise the Clown very much alive. Before the scares kick into high gear, we get to see how their group dynamic has evolved – their interactions now carry a tinge of regret amongst the childish joy. Chastain is a dream piece of casting as the adult Beverly, and it’s virtually impossible for Bill Hader to look more like the grown-up Finn Wolfhard without some questionable surgery. The likenesses are uncanny, but something about their dialogue never quite rings as true as it did with the mischievous kids of the first film.
Not least the constant riffing from Hader, which threatens to undo a great deal of the fear and anguish inherent in the story. A climactic moment that should feel heart-wrenching is undercut by every preceding scene of genuine pathos being punctuated with a gag. Likewise, the sequences of full-on horror: each interaction with a spectre of their past (including a delightfully grotesque payoff to the mad-old-lady set piece from the trailer) is concluded with a jarring one-liner.
The interweaving of past and present also has the unintended side effect of padding the narrative: for a film just shy of three hours long, Chapter Two spends an awful lot of time reliving, revisiting and retreading sequences from Chapter One. This unbalanced focus means there is little room for the older Losers to truly develop, leaving a handful of threads left entirely open. Take Beverly, for example: she’s married to an abusive husband, but aside from a wince-inducing introductory scene, he is never brought up again by her, by It’s torture of her, nor does the narrative tie him into her past paternal trauma (something that is very much a subject of the book).
All of which makes the strengths of this haphazard, lengthy film even more galling. James McAvoy – truly disappearing into a role for the first time since Split – gives a career-best performance, and Bill Skarsgård is still gloriously creepy as the superior Pennywise. The creature design – while never truly matching the haunted painting of Chapter One (this writer shivers just recalling it) – is inventive and allowed greater scope to expand into the daylight hours. Benjamin Wallfisch’ score is wonderful; a Danny Elfman-esque whirl of furious strings and twinkling piano that highlights the real lack of great contemporary scores in the genre.
Said genre could also do with a preference for grotesque imagery over jump-scares, and a strong roster of loveable characters. It provided this perfect opposition to what now constitutes a mainstream horror, but Chapter Two – with its repetitive scares, rehashed set pieces and quip-tastic leads – is surely set to slide down the drain with all the other corpses.
It: Chapter Two is in UK cinemas Friday 6th September
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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