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"IT CHAPTER TWO"
(2019) (James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Horror: A small group of people return to their hometown to battle an evil entity that they thought they vanquished decades ago as kids.
PLOT:
Back in 1989 in the small town of Derry, Maine, a group of kids known as the Loser Club banded together to fight off an evil entity that appeared in the guise of a creepy clown known as Pennywise (BILL SKARSGÅRD) and was responsible for the disappearance of kids there, something that seemed to happen in a cycle of every twenty-seven years.

Having succeeded in driving it back underground, Bill Denbrough (JAEDEN MARTELL), a 13-year-old whose younger brother, Georgie, was one of the clown's victim; Stanley Uris (WYATT OLEFF) who had long been freaked out by an eerie figure in a painting in his rabbi father's office; motormouth Richie Tozier (FINN WOLFHARD); asthmatic hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak (JACK DYLAN GRAZER); new kid in town Ben Hanscom (JEREMY RAY TAYLOR) who's tormented for being chubby; homeschooled orphan Mike Hanlon (CHOSEN JACOBS); and tomboy Beverly Marsh (SOPHIA LILLIS), who had to contend with a sexually abusive father at home, all agreed to reunite anytime in the future should It reappear.

Now twenty-seven years later, Mike (ISAIAH MUSTAFA) is the only one left in Derry, and when he realizes Pennywise has resurfaced, he calls his childhood friends for help. Beverly (JESSICA CHASTAIN) is happy to return, what with being in an abusive marriage, while Bill (JAMES McAVOY) is now a successful author turned screenwriter. Richie (BILL HADER) is a stand-up comedian, while Ben (JAY RYAN) is now a trim architect and Eddie (JAMES RANSONE) is a risk analyst.

The only one not to return is Stanley (ANDY BEAN) who, upon receiving the call, decides to kill himself. With their memories of the past hazy, the others aren't sure why they're back, but once there they end up having to face their individual and collective pasts, a former bully tormentor, Henry Bowers (TEACH GRANT), who's escaped from a psychiatric hospital, and, of course, Pennywise the clown.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
"They cry in the dark
So you can't see their tears
They hide in the light
So you can't see their fears
Forgive and forget
All the while
Love and pain become one and the same
In the eyes of a wounded child
Because hell, hell is for children"

"Hell is For Children" Written by Neil Giraldo, Roger Capps, and Pat Benatar

Pat Benatar caught a lot of grief when she released that song back in 1980 due to those who took the title and chorus literally and didn't understand the song was about the horrors of child abuse. It could have just as easily been about the overall childhood experience of many a person who disliked or hated some part of growing up, be that from issues at home, bullying, feeling inadequate and so on. I always tells teens who think they're life is already over that once they get out of high school, most of those issues go away and they'll likely rarely if ever see their tormentors again.

Granted, they don't believe me and I'm sure I didn't believe any adults who told me the same back when I was a kid, so I guess that's just the way it is. But the adults, at least regarding this matter, are always right as I barely recall the people and things that made certain parts of my growing up pure hell.

Of course, I didn't have to contend with a monster clown that killed other kids and fed off the fears of those who survived and ultimately banded together to fight and drive it back into a long duration hibernation.

That's the gist of "It Chapter Two" that wraps up the latest adaptation of novelist Stephen King's uber-long horror novel "It." In the first film -- that hit theaters in 2017 and went on to scare up an impressive domestic weekend opening box office take of $123 million (and final worldwide gross of $700 million) -- the members of the Losers Club -- Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Martell), Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff), Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) and Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) -- discovered that an entity known as It (which usually showed up in the guise of the uber-creepy Pennywise the Clown) was responsible for the deaths and disappearances of local kids. Accordingly, they put aside their fears and defeated it, while agreeing to reunite should the clown ever show up again.

Lo and behold, that happens twenty-seven years later with the kids having grown up into adults doing their own things far from their hometown and with no recollection of what they once faced. After Pennywise shows up again in the small town of Derry, Maine, the only remaining member of the former Losers Club to still live there, Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), takes it upon himself to contact the others so that they can fulfill their pledge from long ago.

The reaction of those called ranges from confusion to losing one's lunch to suicide, but Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Bill (James McAvoy), Richie (Bill Hader), Ben (Jay Ryan), and Eddie (James Ransone) put their lives on hold and return home, understanding the innate need to, but not remembering what they're up against. That soon becomes all too apparent as each must revisit their respective childhood horrors in order to take on the monster, all as other memories come flooding back.

Director Andy Muschietti returns behind the camera and works from a script by Gary Dauberman (who goes solo here after working as part of a writing trio the first time around) and there are plenty of scares and creepy moments to appease fans of the previous film and/or King's source novel. That said, I don't think it's quite as good as its predecessor for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, it's simply way too long, clocking in at 169 minutes (whereas the 2017 film was more than half an hour shorter). I'll admit that what's present moves along decently enough, but thirty or forty minutes easily could have been cut with likely little to no ill effect.

Then there's the fact that the adult versions of the characters simply aren't as interesting as their child counterparts, with the first installment having a definite "Stand By Me" vibe (even with moving King's story ahead three decades from the original 1950s era setting) that worked to its advantage. It certainly doesn't help that flashback and memory scenes pop up featuring the kid versions and they're far more interesting and engaging than the adult ones.

But my biggest issue -- which also holds true for the source novel -- is the eventual reveal of what's really behind the terror. The fun, if you will, of Pennywise (once again played by Bill Skarsgård), is that little is initially known about what he is, thus making his appearances that much scarier. In my opinion, the revelation lessens a lot of that earlier spooky thunder and thus becomes little more than the case of upping the ante.

It doesn't derail the offering, but by the time a gargantuan, multi-legged clown is chasing the adults around, and all sorts of seemingly random frights are being thrown up onto the screen, the effective smaller scale scares have evaporated in favor of spectacle.

That said, the performances are good, the use of comedic relief is decent, and there are still enough spooky moments present that the conclusion of this tale doesn't feel too much like a step backward. "It Chapter Two" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed September 3, 2019 / Posted September 6, 2019


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