Stand By Me, a Stephen King adaptation that 2017’s It (opens in new tab) and this blockbuster sequel have much in common with, concludes with the words: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?” Well, that sentiment also applies if you still have all of your old pals but you’re now hitting 40. It’s not the same. So just as the adult segments of King’s 1986 tome don’t quite resonate like the sections with the kids, so It Chapter Two chimes a little less sweetly than the first instalment.
Opening back in 1989 as the Losers’ Club enter a blood pact to again fight the shape-shifting evil of ‘It’ should Derry’s streets and storm drains ever run red again, the action then jumps forward 27 years to the brutal death of Adrian Mellon (Xavier Dolan). Beaten in a homophobic attack, Adrian is thrown off a bridge into the churning river, only for a clown to appear on the bank and offer an outstretched hand…
Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), the only Loser who’s remained in Derry, puts out calls to Bill (James McAvoy), Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Richie (Bill Hader), Eddie (James Ransone), Ben (Jay Ryan) and Stanley (Andy Bean). They are scattered, memories tattered, but Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård) is ready to greet them all. And he – it – remembers everything.
Clocking in at nearly three hours (insert ‘ballooning running time’ gag here), It Chapter Two sees returning director Andy Muschietti craft a hugely ambitious horror blockbuster the likes of which we’ve not seen since Kubrick’s The Shining. Too long? Nah, its flaws lie elsewhere: the book’s WTF ending works better on page than screen; Pennywise loses some of his scare-factor as his mythology is laid bare; the mid-section is episodic – a series of horror shorts laid end-to-end – as Pennywise terrorises each of the adult Losers in turn; and too many reality-bleeding-into-fantasy scenes featuring too much CGI make It Chapter Two resemble a latter-day Freddy movie (A Nightmare On Elm Street 5 plays at the pictures in one of the 1989 flashbacks).
Still, huge kudos goes to Muschietti for again capturing the essence of King’s magnum opus. There are many glorious scenes here and a real frisson comes from seeing the adult Losers (all good, with Hader the standout) return to the Barrens, Keenes Pharmacy and, of course, the house of Neibolt Street. Themes of memory, identity and trauma run deep, and viewers can expect shivers aplenty. Dread is just a part of it. The biggest shudders are of delight as It Chapter Two flip-flops between timeframes to chase the poignancy and sweet melancholy that King writes so well.