It: Chapter Two (3 stars)

It: Chapter Two

Pennywise returns in the second part of Andy Muschietti's Stephen King adaptation

The 1984 homophobic murder of Charlie Howard in Bangor, Maine inspired the character of Adrian Mellon in Stephen King's behemoth novel It. This brutal fictionalisation opens the second chapter of director Andy Muschietti's take on the tome, with Adrian played by the prodigiously talented, openly gay Quebecois filmmaker Xavier Dolan.

From the outset, the follow-up has a darker tone; the attack is graphically depicted to show the vicious reality of how hate and bigotry fuel violence. Where the first film occasionally felt like a goofy ghost train ride, whose real-world threats were sinisterly alluded to, the concluding part of Muschietti's adaptation, written by Gary Dauberman, doesn't shy away from visceral savagery, making it an intermittently horrifying experience. It's all interlaced with an emotionally impactful story about friendship and deeply buried secrets and memories that has shades of the 1987 horrors The Lost Boys and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.

One of the most exciting aspects of Chapter Two is the mix of big-name actors and lesser known cast members who take over the roles 27 years after the events of the first film, and whose narratives are interwoven with flashbacks to 1989. To watch the human drama in a horror handled by top-of-their-game stars is a real treat, even if the dialogue isn't as polished as the performances. Jessica Chastain as Beverly battles with an enormous 5000 gallons of fake blood as she confronts her childhood demons, with the ghastly imagery neatly connecting the two films. James McAvoy as Bill acts as a guide who, along with Isaiah Mustafa (playing Mike), gets the unenviable task of explaining exactly what the Ritual of Chüd is, in a sequence that doesn't translate very well on screen.

Jay Ryan's Ben and Andy Bean's Stanley are both handed disturbing moments, but it is Bill Hader as Richie and James Ransone as Eddie that provide some of the film's most moving scenes. In its predecessor, Richie (played by Stranger Things' Finn Wolfhard, who returns along with the original gang of kids for the flashback sequences) was the comic relief, and so too does Hader add some of his trademark levity, but certain aspects of his role are imbued with a gut-punching sadness.

The creepy and gorgeous production design, from The Shape of Water's Paul D Austerberry, proves especially striking during the final act, where Austerberry concocts a hellscape that's Beetlejuice and Hellraiser meets William Blake. Yet, with a running time of nearly three hours, It Chapter Two runs out of steam as the repetitive CG creations lose their terrifying impact and the cheesy romance between Beverly and Ben becomes grating as it squanders Chastain's talents. Still, there are some surprises in store that may even melt the coldest of hearts.

General release from Fri 6 Sep.

It Chapter Two

  • 3 stars
  • 2019
  • US
  • 2h 50min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Andy Muschietti
  • Cast: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Skarsgård, Bill Hader
  • UK release: 6 September 2019

Twenty-seven years after the events of the first film, the town experiences a series of attacks, causing the Losers to reunite. Darker-toned than the first one, it has an impactful story about friendship and buried secrets and if the repetitive CGI lose their impact, there are still surprises in store.