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IT CHAPTER TWO gets 6/10 It me, baby, one more time


Directed by Andy Muschietti

Starring James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Skarsgård, Bill Hader

6/10

As that sense of dissatisfaction and boredom mount, you come to the unfortunate realisation that IT Chapter Two is the type of Stephen King adaptation that we’ve come to expect from cinema. Sometimes what engrosses us on the page, can make for exceedingly average fare on the big screen.

Twenty-seven years after the events of the first chapter, the Losers’ Club is called back to Derry, when Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) recognises a familiar wave of violence and disappearances in the small rural township. The rest of the club have moved away, and forgotten the events of their childhood, but as Bill (James McAvoy), Beverley (Jessica Chastain), Richie (Bill Hader), Ben (Jay Ryan), and Eddie (James Ransone) return to their home town, they start to recall the events of that summer and the monster that terrified them – the clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård).

With the films being split chronologically by events, it was somewhat inevitable that the second chapter would be a harsh comedown. Bereft of much of that heady cocktail of childhood nostalgia that propelled IT Chapter One forward, the sequel becomes an exercise of picking through the detritus of small town America in search of memory, punctuated by moments of fear and terror as the Losers are tormented by Pennywise. At close to three hours, it becomes an endurance test for audiences as well as the characters. Threaded into its homecoming narrative, IT Chapter Two does manage to say a little about the precarious state of that small town lifestyle; the growing isolation, the disconnect between more progressive social attitudes (in this case specifically looking at gay rights), the increased economic hardships suffered in the High Street. Yet its message could be more succinctly made, and with greater effect.

Instead IT Chapter Two wallows in that faint memory of the past. Even when that turns to terror, those moments don’t generally feel as fresh or as shocking as they once did. They are still effective, with Skarsgård delivering a performance that makes your skin crawl towards the nearest cinema exit, but they are also buried amongst a lot of CG as IT Chapter Two attempts to escalate the dramatic nature of its horror. As a result it becomes an average example of blockbuster Horror – a massive explanation of lore that confuses as much as it clarifies, the hope for the spectacle of a staged set piece to make up for a lack in imagination and effective use of atmosphere and tone, and a few knowing winks at horror classics of the past (Psycho, The Thing, The Shining). None of that separates it from the pack.

It’s not all grim news. There’s a healthy dose of gallows humour, and a couple of effective frights amongst the woe. Hader and Ransone bring a lot of that humour, with rapid fire quips and comic bickering, but there’s also a deeper bond there, speaking about memories and identity. The conveyance of those relationships by the various cast members, as recollections of that summer flood back to them, is well done. It’s a believable chemistry, one both of shared trauma, and the ghost of long gone halcyon days.

Paired with the first chapter, IT Chapter Two does make an impressive tale, with a mostly satisfying conclusion (one of the film’s running jokes is King’s unsatisfactory endings). Yet standing as a film in its own right, Chapter Two is less impressive, delivering us the inconsistent experience we’ve often come to expect from a King film, rather than the one we got the first time and may have hoped for again.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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