'It - Chapter Two'
(R / 141 mins)
Overview: Evil resurfaces in Derry as director Andy Muschietti reunites the Losers Club in a return to where it all began with 'IT - Chapter Two,' the conclusion to the highest-grossing horror film of all time.
Verdict: Personally, I loved 'It' - it made my top 10 films of 2017 because not only was it pants-browningly scary, but it was also a beautifully shot coming-of-age story that deserves to be a rite-of-passage horror movie for teens now and in the future.
But that film was only half the story, literally. Stephen King's 1986 source novel divided its action into two sections, set 27 years apart. So It: Chapter Two finds the protagonists of the previous film all grown up, all unhappy, and trying to repress their 27-year-old memories of a child-eating clown named Pennywise (Skarsgård).
But Mike (Mustafa) stayed behind in their hometown of Derry, obsessing over Pennywise, while all the rest of his "gang" The Losers moved on and away. When it seems like "It" has returned to fulfil his 27-year murder cycle, Mike summons The Losers back to Derry to fulfil the promise they made to deal with the murderous clown once and for all.
The success of the first film (which works as a standalone movie) saw this sequel greenlit with double the budget and a top-shelf cast. It's this quality cast - notably Chastain, McAvoy and Hader - that helps elevate Chapter Two above its potentially schlocky material.
A handy FX budget also helps sell some of the more ludicrous effects sequences, particularly in the inevitably CG-heavy showdown.
But the way the material is handled is top-shelf too. Whereas the first film dealt with adolescents on the brink of adulthood and the typical fears that come with coming of age, here we find the protagonists on the brink of mid-life crises, riddled with uncertainty and haunted by their pasts.
Unrequited loves, closeted sexuality, childhood trauma, unfulfilled lives, self doubts - these are as much a part of the nightmares of The Losers' lives as the monstrous Pennywise.
As much as the likes of Chastain, McAvoy and Hader (and Ryan and Ransone too) bring the goods in the acting stakes, it's Pennywise's show. Aided by some freaky make-up and FX work, Skarsgård is again utterly terrifying, his performance a masterclass in scary.
He again makes It's secret weapon, of course, "It". While the film leans heavily on its jump scares, delayed jump scares, and rising soundtrack, it also finds other ways to unnerve.
A kid alone in the dark with Pennywise lit by a single firefly, a broad daylight encounter between Hader's Richie and Pennywise, an old lady acting strangely in a loungeroom, Pennywise headbutting a glass wall trying to break through - all of these moments will have you checking under your bed when you get home.
Pennywise may be the star, but special mentions goes to Hader, who gives the performance of his career. He's hilarious, providing some much needed levity amid the po-faced seriousness, but he also helps make Richie the most well-rounded and interesting character of The Losers.
It's an under-rated turn from an under-rated actor in a film you might not necessarily seek out for its top-notch thespianism.
The only real creaks come in the story itself. Each character wanders off for their own trip down memory lane, which keeps the scares coming, but drags the story out.
There is also the matter of how one kills a millennia-old fear beast, which tips the film's ending into absurdity somewhat. But the film is self-aware enough to poke fun at itself, via the age-old Stephen King critique that his endings suck, with McAvoy's Bill standing in for King (who also cameos in the film). This at least helps keep expectations in check.
It's likely we haven't seen the last of 'It' (they're already touting the possibility of prequels), but if they can leave It well enough alone, then we have a finely crafted horror duology on our hands that will stand the test of time as one of the better Stephen King adaptations.