Twenty seven years after the events of Chapter 1, Derry’s own Losers Club are called back home to tackle a newly-emerged Pennywise.
Adapting this second part, focusing chiefly on those chapters of the book which feature the Losers Club as adults, screenwriter Gary Dauberman has done a pretty astute job in the face of a tough task.
Stephen King’s weighty tome took me three attempts to finish, becoming something of a literary white whale. The reason for my struggle was a pretty straightforward one: any and all adult chapters in the book are almost totally irredeemably boring and borderline unreadable, such is the massive scale of the drudgery contained within them. The kids’ stuff has a melancholy coming-of-age charm and an innate extra creepiness because the characters are young – all of which was spotlighted nicely in the first movie. Dress the Losers up in shirts and ties, give them mortgages, jobs and a world of every day cares, though, and the charisma is instantly sucked out of the story. Things start to become bland, much less fun. Tommy Lee Wallace’s television miniseries fell victim to this in the most spectacularly tedious way, but this follow-up to 2017’s runaway hit sidesteps the problem neatly.
It turns out that director Andy Muschietti’s secret weapon is humour. Chapter 1 provided plenty of raucous teenage shenanigans and moments of genuine sweetness among the horror; Chapter 2 follows this with a melancholy pining for lost innocence and childhood, but peppered throughout with broad humour and belly laughs. The buzzing dynamic of the children has carried over nicely into an adult cast featuring, but not limited to, James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain and Bill Hader. Gross-out meets deadpan meets awkward meets shriekingly hysterical as frequent instances of humour pin-prick the scares and give the decent-but-not-ground-breaking carnival ride horror welcome moments of levity.
There are intriguing moments of contemplation, too. As the Losers Club members retrace their steps through Derry, they are forced to confront their inner fears. Guilt plays a big part, here. Lost relatives and family tragedies are a recurring theme and it all opens with a brutal hate crime set-piece horror that reminds you that true evil doesn’t wear grease paint makeup or carry balloons.
Like the book, it outstays its welcome, dragging its feet through a final thirty minutes or so that feel like a bit of prolonged box-ticking. A self-reflexive early gag about Bill Denbrough’s (McAvoy) inability, as a horror novelist, to finish stories comes back to haunt. Genuine moments of outright terror are infrequent too. This is, to paraphrase Stephen King himself, a kind of nightmare that is washed away and forgotten as soon as you leave the cinema. I’m not convinced there’s much about this or its predecessor, in pure scare terms, that will ever stay with you; but its look at friendship, across childhood and adulthood, and in the face of adversity will linger.
Devotees of the first part will be satisfied with this finale: a double-bill of funhouse horror that ekes plenty of moments of grief-tinged shock from a difficult source.
Chris Banks | ★★★ 1/2
Horror | USA, 2019 | 15 | 6th September 2019 (UK) | Warner Bros Pictures | Dir.Andy Muschietti | James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Skarsgard, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ransone, Andy Bean