“It Chapter Two” is one long jump scare. And as its running time is close to three hours, I do mean long.
Sudden scares are everywhere in the follow-up to 2017’s monster hit “It” (its $700 million take at the worldwide box office made it the highest-grossing horror film of all time), based on Stephen King’s massive (more than 1,000 pages) 1986 novel.
They’re behind a shower curtain, down in a cellar, under a bed, in a locked bathroom and especially in the sewers of Derry, Maine, the most godforsaken hamlet in the King oeuvre.
Pull back that curtain, peer under the bed, wade into the slime and … “BOO! YAAAAHI!” Again and again.
“Bad things are happening,” a character declares at one point. Things with fangs. Things with claws. Things with skittery spider legs.
Revolting things. “YAAAAHI!” (It’s amazing what they can do with CGI these days.)
They’re all manifestations of the drooling, shape-shifting, child-murdering clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), who is the bane of the existence of the seven members of the tale’s so-called Losers Club. Introduced as children in the original “It,” they’re back 27 years later in “Chapter Two,” all grown up and portrayed by Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone and Andy Bean.
Traumatized by the events in the first picture, where they joined forces to temporarily best the demon, they’re summoned back to the scene of the long-ago crimes by Loser member Mike (Mustafa), the only one of the seven to remain in Derry. Away from the town, their memories of the events of the past have mysteriously faded, and they’re understandably not too eager to return and revive those memories. But they all made a blood pact as kids to go back if Pennywise ever reappeared to finally finish him off. So when Mike summons them, they’ve got to go.
Pennywise’s special satanic power is his ability to use the Losers’ most deep-seated fears to prey on them and, he hopes, kill them. Chastain’s character is a victim of parental and later spousal abuse. McAvoy’s is guilt-ridden over his failure to prevent the murder of his younger brother by Pennywise. And so on.
So all are damaged. All are vulnerable.
The fact that none of them is particularly likable hurts the picture. They’re peevish people to a large degree.
Rather than using the extended running time to dig deep into these characters, director Andy Muschietti, who also directed the original, piles on the frights in a manner that builds to an ending drenched in hysteria. Along the way, he tosses in a “Here’s Johnny!” callback to “The Shining” and soaks Chastain in blood a la “Carrie.” Bad idea. It just serves to remind viewers of King-based movies that are much superior to “Chapter Two.”
★★ “It Chapter Two,” with Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Bill Skarsgård, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean. Directed by Andy Muschietti, from a screenplay by Gary Dauberman. 170 minutes. Rated R for disturbing violent content and bloody images throughout, pervasive language and some crude sexual material. Opens Sept. 6 at multiple theaters.