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Pennywise returns in It Chapter Two

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It’s been 27 years since the Losers Club defeated Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgård) in It (2017). During that time, most of the club members moved away, except Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), who lives above the town library and stays alert for signs that the evil clown has returned. And, lo, at the start of It Chapter Two, his diligence is rewarded.

To the phone Mike goes, calling the six other Losers, all of whom long ago swore a blood oath that they would return to Derry, Maine, if Pennywise should re-emerge. Bill (James McAvoy) is a successful author, Richie (Bill Hader) is a stand-up comedian, Eddie (James Ransone) is a risk analyst, Ben (Jay Ryan) is an architect, Stanley (Andy Bean) is about to take his wife to Buenos Aires.The only female in the group, Beverly (Jessica Chastain), has an abusive husband.

These phone calls could’ve been merged together as a montage, but writer Gary Dauberman and director Andy Muschietti treat each as individual scenes. In doing so, the viewer feels more “caught up” with what’s happening in each person’s current life, and they register as real people who’ve moved on with their lives, as opposed to grown-up versions of the children we got to know the first time around. This is important, because it creates emotional investment in the characters, and we need to care about them for the movie to work.

All return except one (no spoilers here!). Mike thinks he has a plan to defeat Pennywise, but it’s shaky at best. Part of the plan is for each Loser to retrieve a token from their childhood that could be used for a sacrifice, which leads to the best scares in the film, especially when Beverly returns to her former apartment.

The visual effects, particularly those involving Pennywise, are strong but not spectacular, which is fine. More impressive is the ensemble, which effectively updates characters originated two years ago by child actors. The Losers from the 2017 film (Finn Wolfhard, Jaeden Martell, et al.) also appear, as Muschietti deftly balances the past and present in an impressive way that allows the story to come together well. And kudos to Skarsgård, who once again embodies Pennywise with disturbing menace.

At 169 minutes, this has got to be the longest horror film ever made. Does it have to be this long? No, but it doesn’t feel long, which is important. Cutting 15 minutes or so would’ve made it mildly easier to sit through, but the truth is, most of the content is worthwhile. Sure, the climax is drawn out, and we don’t need as much of local wacko Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) as we get, but otherwise, the lengthy running time is legit.

Watching the film, my wife and I were holding hands (sweet, I know). There were tense moments, but long ago I became immune to jump scares. My wife, however, will jump at every surprise. I eventually had to stop holding her hand because she’d squeeze too tight after the jump scares. So she placed her hand on my knee. I now have a bruised knee.

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