It Chapter Two

 

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The inevitable sequel to Stephen King’s 2017 box-office phenomenon turns out to be an endlessly episodic, repetitive and derivative bore.

   
It Chapter Two

Tongue in cheek: Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise

 

Cinema history is strewn with mediocre sequels to celebrated horror films. Not that It (2017) was any good: it was generic, overblown and way too CGI-heavy. Nevertheless, it did become the highest-grossing horror film of all time, eclipsing the spectacular grosses of The Exorcist (1973) and The Blair Witch Project (1999). Chapter Two (2019), drawn from the second half of Stephen King’s original (and mammoth) 1986 novel, is an altogether more unwieldy beast. It not only takes us back to the troubled school days of the sorry septet known as ‘The Losers Club’, but jumps forward 27 years to see what they’re up to now.

 

This is the best bit as we re-visit the various underdogs in their adult incarnations. Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy) is now a celebrated novelist and Hollywood scriptwriter with a highly-strung wife; Richie Tozier (Bill Hader) is an eminent stand-up comedian; Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan) is a top-tier architect; Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransome) is a successful risk assessor; Stanley Uris (Andy Bean) works for a flourishing accountancy firm in Atlanta; and Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain) is a prominent Chicago fashion designer. So much for their childhood shortcomings. Only Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) has remained in the Maine town of Derry where he and his friends were once traumatised by a shape-shifting clown that preyed on vulnerable children.

 

The new film starts in Derry, in the year 1989, when our narrator tells us that, “sometimes we are what we wish to forget.” As filmed by the cinematographer Checco Varese, the streets of Derry certainly makes it look like a place one would want to forget. Then, cutting forward to 2016, we are greeted by the sounds of screaming children, which turn out to be the innocuous cries of the young at a fun fair. Then, as two young men discuss getting out of dodge to relocate to New York, they are surrounded by a gang of local thugs. Adrian (Xavier Dolan), who is asthmatic, has his inhaler kicked out of his reach, before being beaten to a pulp and then tossed into a river. But as his boyfriend strives to rescue him from the fast-flowing current, Adrian is snatched up by that bloody clown and has his heart ripped out. The latter, a cosmic force of evil called Pennywise, only seems to prey on – and kill – those who are already persecuted by their human peers. And, regrettably, our septet of protagonists have never really shed their childhood insecurities, so that when they return to Derry to confront the clown of their childhood nightmares they are still susceptible to the debilitating hallucinations that Pennywise can conjure up.

 

This is extremely unpleasant stuff and the caution issued by the British Board of Film Classification warns of discrimination as well as language and strong gory violence. Yet at almost three hours in length, the film is so tied up in flashbacks and endless scenes of mayhem (that we know are merely hallucinations), it is tedium rather than fear that engulfs us. Another problem is that there are so many characters to explain and to elucidate, that the film gets bogged down in a drift of exposition. Consequently, there’s no time for the viewer to connect with – or care for – any one individual. And to complicate matters, there’s a homicidal madman on the loose, which is really over-egging the pudding. The film’s original director – Andy Muschietti – returns to guide the sequel through its paces with some style, accompanied by an agitated, ostentatious Herrmannesque score by Benjamin Wallfisch. Horror fans may relish the allusions to other, better genre classics (inevitably, The Shining, and John Carpenter’s The Thing), but more discerning cinemagoers will probably be bored out of their minds.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Martell, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Teach Grant, Xavier Dolan, Taylor Frey, Nicholas Hamilton, Joan Gregson, Jess Weixler, Will Beinbrink, Luke Roessler, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Joe Bostick, Owen Teague, Stephen King, Peter Bogdanovich.

 

Dir Andy Muschietti, Pro Barbara Muschietti, Dan Lin and Roy Lee, Screenplay Gary Dauberman, Ph Checco Varese, Pro Des Paul D. Austerberry, Ed Jason Ballantine, Music Benjamin Wallfisch, Costumes Luis Sequeira.

 

New Line Cinema/Double Dream/Vertigo Entertainment/Rideback-Warner Bros.

169 mins. USA/Canada. 2019. Rel: 6 September 2019. Cert. 15.