By Jim Slotek
Sometimes, just sometimes, the author of a best-selling book may know what he’s doing with his own narrative.
The adult-child horror dichotomy of Stephen King’s It was subjected to script surgery for the 2017 movie of the same name, splitting the story of Pennywise the Clown’s evil reign of terror in Derry, Maine into the “kids’ story” for movie one and the “grownups’” for the strangely flat and ridiculously overlong sequel, It Chapter 2.
If it teaches no other lesson, It Chapter 2 does suggest that children in peril are more affecting and scary than adults plotting at length to take down a monster. (Even in the book, the child characters were more effectively fleshed out than the adults).
The kids-only version worked for that reason. But narratively, it means there was nothing left for the sequel, except connect everybody’s stories, throw in flashbacks to remind you which kid this adult once was, and reuse Pennywise’s powers of illusion until we are no longer impressed.
The preamble itself is endless. It Chapter Two begins with a fatal gay-bashing incident and an appearance on the riverbank by the world’s most famous evil clown (Bill Skarsgård). It’s 27 years later, and Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) is the only one of the gang of clown-fighters who called themselves “The Losers” still living in the most cursed town in America.
Realizing what is happening, Mike calls his old pals one by one, all of whom have repressed the memory of Derry and react to his call like an attack of PTSD. Of the central characters, stuttering Bill (James McAvoy) has become a scriptwriter, Richie (Bill Hader) is a stand-up comic and Beverly (Jessica Chastain) has grown from a girl with an abusive father to an adult in an abusive marriage.
Oh, and Ben, the (literally) tortured fat kid? Today’s Ben (Jay Ryan) worked out and is now a hard body. This changes the spin of one of the kids’ relationships, the Cyrano de Bergerac-esque turn of the body-shamed Ben not revealing that the anonymous love poem Beverly cherishes was written by him, and not Bill as she’d assumed.
Though they’re all (with one exception) compelled to return to Derry, they’re dead-set against facing almost certain death in another war with Pennywise. That is, until each one – EACH ONE – has an increasingly predictable horrifying experience that turns their head around.
Perhaps the hardest-to-figure, most time-consuming thing in the It Chapter Two script is a MacGuffin search, inspired by Native legend, for various keepsakes that are supposed to act kind of like the horcruxes in Harry Potter. This all unspools rather sloppily, and let’s just say Pennywise dies many supposed deaths before we get the credits.
In between the long patches there are some scary turns, though with diminishing returns, and director Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman frequently turn to fear’s first cousin - humour - by wise-cracking through their peril. This too gets tired. But almost anything would after nearly three hours.
It Chapter Two. Directed by Andy Muschietti, written by Gary Dauberman. Starring James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain and Bill Hader. Opens wide, Friday, September 6.