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‘It: Chapter Two’ review: Horror sequel sinks under its own weight

WATCH: 'It Chapter Two' trailer

When It: Chapter One was released in 2017, I was among the most excited to see it. Having been steeped in the original 1990 TV movie (admittedly too steeped), I was a huge fan of the franchise and Stephen King’s voluminous 80s book before it.

My disappointed review didn’t win any fans, that’s for sure, and unfortunately for Chapter Two I’ll probably receive even more hate mail. The very faults of the first movie are still present in the second iteration, in some cases on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Somehow King’s story suffers when it moves from page to screen, especially as the kids grow into adults; even the ’90s TV movie version didn’t escape this reality. King’s stories are compelling and wholly absorptive because he’s a master of suspense and mental anguish. It’s not so much horror as it is a mind game, playing on our greatest fears.

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In It especially, the baddie Pennywise the Clown lives, breathes and survives off of humankind’s fears. As the Losers Bill (James McAvoy), Bev (Jessica Chastain), Ben (Jay Ryan), Eddie (James Ransone), Richie (Bill Hader) and Stan (Andy Bean) head into adulthood and separate from Derry, they lose touch with the memories of their nightmarish childhoods. As gruesome deaths start happening again in the small town, Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) — the only member of the Losers who stayed there — calls them all back to Derry to help him defeat It once and for all.

What are the faults you’re talking about?

The 2017 movie was irksome because Pennywise never seemed to actually go after the Losers. He certainly said he wanted to, but his “terrorizing” of the kids was essentially “Boo!” and then he’d run away. Only one of them, Bev, was caught in his “dead lights” and came close to dying. Bill’s brother Georgie was killed in a horrific way, the most grotesque scene out of the first film.

Strangely, and in direct contrast with Chapter One, this sequel is way more violent. Very violent. The movie starts off with an unnecessarily vicious and straight-up appalling homophobic attack (featuring a special Canadian guest star), one that adds nothing to the story and barely involves Pennywise. It’s a head-scratcher, but as the movie progresses, it’s a theme: this harrowing violence, the onscreen killing of toddlers. It’s almost as if director Andy Muschietti was given a directive to up the horror elements, and he went whole hog to the other extreme.

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But this is a horror movie! It’s supposed to be disgusting.

As a big horror fan, yes, I agree. But King’s magic is in the suspense and the subtle fear, not the outright nastiness that plasters the screen. It’s like a delicious sundae: put too many candies and chocolates and other goodies on it, it’s barely a sundae anymore. That’s how It: Chapter Two feels.

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How’s the story itself?

Fiercely loyal to the book, for the most part, it’s a trip to watch the 2019 version in comparison with the 1990 TV movie. Upped with special effects and multiple scary sequences, I’d argue that the sequel is better than the original, at least in terms of acting, effects and plot intrigue. It loses the audience (and most critics) with its meandering length — an insane two hours, 49 minutes — and piecemeal storytelling. The Losers’ stories are all told individually, so as you watch, you go along a checklist. OK, we covered Eddie, now onto Bev, and then Bill, then Richie… it feels very long, almost endless.

I’ve heard Bill Hader steals the show.

He does. His Richie depiction is hilarious and spot-on, while the rest of the adult Losers hold their own in their roles. The only semi-preposterous casting is Ryan as adult Ben, but hey, I suppose it’s possible. His “love story” with Bev, while sweet in the TV movie, gets a touch too cheesy here. Another standout, again, is Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise. He falls so deeply into the role that he is inseparable from it, and now a rival to the original Pennywise, Tim Curry. If only he had more screen time in this sequel! It feels like he’s missing for half the movie.

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So what’s the bottom line?

It: Chapter Two is a better movie than its predecessor, but its over-the-top raging violence and its insane runtime negate its positives. It’s a shame too, because It is one of King’s best works, and truly one of his scariest stories. Use caution if you’re thinking of bringing the kids, and as for yourself, don’t drink too much liquid before sitting down to watch.

‘It: Chapter Two’ is now playing in theatres across Canada.