[su_dropcap size=”5″]L[/su_dropcap]ike so many Stephen King novels, It Chapter Two mingles the themes of lost innocence and decayed Americana, yielding a result that’s more melancholic than it is frightening. The people in these movies walk the same sad streets that can be found in Stand By Me and Dolores Claiborne. Quiet, character-driven moments fuel the best parts of Chapter Two, wherein haggard adults ruminate on the lives they could’ve had. These scenes get punctuated with showy flourishes of CGI horror that are only somewhat successful at being scary. At a sprawling, ballsy 170 minutes of runtime, this electric booglaloo alternates between being funny, fascinating, and flat-out draining.
This installment takes a Twilight Zone stab at The Big Chill, as our intrepid gang of Losers from the first film has grown up and grown apart. Everyone lives in varying states of misery, their minds mostly wiped of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgârd), the Satanic clown-beast they encountered as children. Bill (James McAvoy) is now an accomplished horror novelist, although everyone hates how his books end. (You can almost hear King giggling in the background.) Beverly (Jessica Chastain), the bright, bubbly Darla of these rascals, has gone from an abusive childhood to an abusive marriage. Smartass Richie (Bill Hader) works blue as an LA stand-up comic. Chubby Ben (Jay Ryan) is now a hunky architect. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) stays behind to learn the lore of Pennywise and keep vigil over the town. Nebbish Eddie (James Ransone) and Stanley (Andy Bean) round out this team of lost Losers.
After downing the clown as children, our heroes vow to reconvene if and when It appears again. Leap to 2016, and people start getting eaten. Mike starts making calls, and the frightened Losers reluctantly make their way home. Once the band gets back together, everybody starts recovering their memories of Pennywise, and the youth they lost because of his him. Regrets resurface, smoldering crushes get exposed, and everybody has to face their greatest fears before this killer clown finishes them all.
For a horror movie, It Chapter Two has an economy-sized plot: Lots of characters with multiple arcs, multiple flashbacks covering several timelines, multiple narrators who sprinkle bits of poetic dialogue at the beginning and end of the movie, a love triangle, Native American tribal rituals, daddy issues, mommy issues, an ill-fated little girl, an ill-fated little boy, a demonic Pomeranian* and more. Lots more. It’s a meal with many courses: Devotees will devour everything, while novices might tap out before the sorbet arrives.
The filmmakers wisely maintain some interest by filling their cast with familiar faces: As the haunted leader of the Losers, McAvoy turns in fine work, just as he always does. Skarsgârd, with his psychotic cackling and bulging eyes, delivers another stunning, unhinged performance as Pennywise. The film perks up and bristles with tension whenever the titular demon appears onscreen, replete with an odiously cheerful smile. Everybody is pretty good, but this It mostly belongs to Bill Hader. An otherwise drab, murky story would’ve bogged in its soggy second act if it weren’t for Hader’s shaggy charisma. He supplies a much-needed dose of sarcasm and likability into an otherwise steady diet of screaming and crying.
Like Bill’s novels, It Chapter Two can’t quite stick the landing. The brawny action bonanza that closes the film looks impressive, but it drags on until It stops being scary. Once that’s out of the way, the script spends several scenes like a party-goer who doesn’t know the kegs are cashed and the DJ’s gone home. In the theater, keys were jingling from an audience ready to hit the exits, only to find that the narrators were still jabbering for several more minutes. I know all that sounds like a harsh assessment, but I actually did enjoy a decent amount of It 2. The cinematography and set design are beautiful to watch, the score balances the horror with some richly melodic motifs, and the acting is top-notch. Unfortunately, the filmmakers don’t know when to stop giving. A little less could’ve made this movie a whole lot more.
170 minutes. R.
*= I’m officially starting a band called Demonic Pomeranian, and nobody can stop me.