With IT being an overwhelming success two years ago, its sequel arrives with a plenty of expectations. Director Andy Muschietti and writer Gary Dauberman return to continue and conclude the story of a ghoulish killer clown who appears every 27 years to terrorize and kill children. Chase Palmer and Cary Fukunaga aren't around to co-write with Dauberman, so there is the potential for some drop-off, but at the same time having just one screenwriter may offer some consistency. At the least, IT already did a good enough job establishing its main characters, so Dauberman can maybe just focus on scaring the heck out of us.

Chapter Two boasts a bigger cast since the Losers are all grown up. The onscreen talent includes some big names – Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone and Andy Bean. They are the adult versions of Beverly, Bill, Richie, Mike, Ben, Eddie and Stanley, played valiantly in the first film by Sophia Lillis, Jaeden Martell, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jack Dylan Grazer and Wyatt Oleff, respectively. Of course, Bill Skarsgard (who is again terrifyingly splendid) returns as Pennywise – IT himself.

Picking up 27 years after the events of IT, nearly everyone's moved away from Derry, save Mike, who's now the town's librarian and has been researching everything Pennywise-related. Mike calls everyone back to Derry when he discovers evidence that Pennywise isn't dead. The group, though, is reluctant to follow up on their pact and to top it off their memories of those traumatizing events are difficult to remember. The combination of those two factors finds each person harboring shame and guilt because it's apparent the reemergence of Pennywise has renewed many unresolved issues they all tried to leave behind.

Therein lies Chapter Two at its strongest. Whether we know it or not, Pennywise is merely a euphemism for the Losers' personal demons. Of course, with Pennywise in play death is a highly possible result, but when you look closely at the problems being mismanaged – drug abuse and child abuse are easy to spot; there are issues the Losers have which can ultimately yield tragic results. So real life horrors make Chapter Two scary, but sadly that's possibly the only reason why.

For much of Chapter Two's 169-minute running time the Losers don't contend with Pennywise. Instead, they battle their personal issues, realized with a sort-of scavenger hunt (that doubles as personal reflection time). That portion eats up a good hour but it goes nowhere as the results of those personal journeys literally and figuratively go up in smoke. One positive, though, is that each actor is given a chance to shine. McAvoy and Chastain are highlights, but each adult actor does well in successfully mimicking the mannerisms of their child counterparts. If anyone, though, completely owns their performance, it's Hader. His stint on HBO's Barry has prepped him for his turn as Richie. He steals every scene he's in and he's amazingly talented at going from deadpan to emotional (and sometimes back) at the flip of a switch (watch for it during the final act).

Circling back to Chapter Two's scares, Muschietti relies on jump scares… way too much. Jump scares are most effective when used sparingly, but that is a fact Muschietti ignored. There are other demons and ugly creatures which appear besides Pennywise; Muschietti deploys the same technique for each one. It's not scary, not even remotely. In addition, the demons look more fake than real; you can tell they're CGI creations. So from a horror perspective Chapter Two fails.

That misstep, though, is balanced out by the strong performances, its faithfulness to Stephen King's book and building upon the connection the first film created with its characters. It is well-made and looks good (stunning at times), but this sequel meanders during the second act. And sharing in the abundance of jump scares, Mushcietti relies too heavily on flashbacks, many of which do more to take audiences out of scenes than add exposition.

There are scenes which successfully remind viewers of Rob Reiner's 1986 film Stand by Me (and that's a good thing). The importance of friendship and using friendship to overcome is apparent in both films, and the relationships in both are nostalgia-inducing. The fact that Stand by Me is based on a King novella provides consistency to Chapter Two's friendship themes and is the clear reason to take a look at this good, but not great, film.

3.5 stars out of 5


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