Most effective horror films nestle in nicely to a 90- to 100-minute run time. Scares tend to get super redundant and the sense of dread dramatically lessens when they clock in longer. It Chapter Two defies the odds with a mammoth two hours and 49 minute run time. Yet somehow it remains just as nerve-rattling, creepy and unsettling as its predecessor making for the most effective one-two punch in modern horror.
There’s no doubt that horror movies featuring children are just inherently more terrifying and unnerving than one where adults are being targeted by some malevolent force. Children in the cross hairs of some unspeakable evil go against some of the long established horror movie tropes that kids are mostly untouchable. It flipped that rule with children largely getting killed and tormented by a terrifying force named Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgård). Pennywise’s menace is stopped — temporarily — by a group of seven children who call themselves the Losers Club.
In most cases you can’t go home again, but for the sake of Derry, the Losers Club must return home as Pennywise is back 27 years later and ready for a terrifying comeback. Of the club, only Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) has remained behind as somewhat of a lookout for Pennywise’s inevitable return. When people start getting killed, Mike sounds the call to reunite the others to make good on their childhood promise to return to finish what they started and kill Pennywise for good this time.
Only catch is the old gang has largely forgotten about their youth, but feel a nagging tug that they did make a promise they have to fulfill. Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy, Glass), Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain, Dark Phoenix), Richie Tozier (Bill Hader), Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan) and Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone). Only Stanley Uris (Andy Bean) fails to make the reunion for spoiler reasons that aren’t as obvious as they initially appear.
Pennywise is anxious to reconnect with the now adults and starts triggering into old fears and memories they hadn’t realized they’d forgotten. This plays out in both current day segments and flashbacks featuring the childhood versions of the Losers. Jaeden Martell, Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs and Jeremy Ray Taylor return for these segments and get slapped with a little digital de-aging to retain the youthful appearance they had in the 2017 film.
Part of the film’s lengthy run time is due to screenwriter Gary Dauberman (It) going the atypical route of actually devoting time in a horror movie to character development. With seven characters that’s going to take some time, but this approach is better than shortchanging some of the Losers. And it makes the reunion that much more special as the adults have a deeper connection beyond a shared trauma and want to re-establish their childhood bonds in a less threatening situation.
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One of the running jokes of the film is Bill is an excellent writer, but the endings of his books are terrible. That’s a winking gag to It creator Stephen King, who’s earned a similar rep over the years with It frequently considered one of his more out there and lackluster conclusions. There’s a good amount of humor in the film with some playing off horror tropes and others from the character interactions.
Hader is getting a lot of buzz from his performance, which requires a dramatic edge to go along with his standard straight comedic roles. McAvoy and Chastain, as expected, are terrific and the rest of the main cast holds their own with no trouble. Skarsgård gives such an effectively creepy performance with his pained Pennywise voice, his exaggerated movement and mischievous demeanor.
Director Andy Muschietti tackles horror from the most basic, but effective manner. He sets up an escalating sense of uneasiness, lets viewers consider what’s around the corner or what’s about to jump out and then delivers on it. Muschietti treats Pennywise like the cat patiently toying with the mouse before devouring it.
While we know the younger Losers have to survive their encounters with Pennywise, Muschietti plays out the worst case scenarios with side characters just to reinforce Pennywise’s credibility as a monster.
Following up the highest grossing horror movie of all time affords the sequel some big budget luxuries. The final battle with Pennywise blows away the 1990 TV version in terms of scope, special effects and scale. It feels like an epic boss fight instead of the best that could be done at the time.
Chapter Two’s run time does kill off the notion of watching It and this in a marathon unless viewers dutifully carve out five hours and four minutes. Could Muschietti realistically found some areas to trim or scenes to cut out altogether? Sure, but there’s an immersive feel with the film’s run time and the pacing that make it too rewarding to cut corners.
It’s hard to pick a favorite between this and its predecessor as they form a horrifying yet heartfelt look at childhood and the fear that stops some from living their lives to the fullest.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures