It’s a bit of a slog

IT CHAPTER TWO (15, 165 mins)

In an early scene of director Andy Muschietti’s over-long return to the highest-grossing horror film of all time, an emotionally crippled character – a novelist turned screenwriter – becomes the butt of a running joke about his inability to write a satisfying ending.

Stephen King, who cameos in the sequel as the proprietor of a musty antiques store, weathered similar criticism for the resolution to his 1986 book, It.

Screenwriter Gary Dauberman doesn’t stray far from the well-trodden path of the source text and condemns It Chapter Two to a fantastical final flourish that will come as a relief to audiences who have slogged through more than two-and-a-half hours of on-screen calamity.

The opening sequence – a brutal and unflinching hate crime – is the stuff of modern-day nightmares and sends a shudder of fear down the spine that ripples deliciously as grown-up incarnations of the characters are drawn back to the fictional town of Derry in Maine.

Sins of the past echo cruelly in the present for one victim of domestic violence and a diabolical predator preys on a little girl’s insecurities about her looks with scalpel-like precision.

Once the reluctant heroes divide to conquer their fears, tension dissipates and the running time becomes a genuine test of endurance despite sterling performances from a teary-eyed Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy.

It has been 27 years since the sweltering summer of 1989 when teenage members of the Losers Club – Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard) and Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff) – banded together to defeat Pennywise the clown (Bill Skarsgard).

“If it isn’t dead, if it comes back, we come back too,” declares Bill to the rest of the gang, slicing a shard of broken glass into each of their palms to seal a blood oath.

Hellish history repeats in 2016 and Mike (now played by Isaiah Mustafa), who has remained in Derry as the town’s librarian, summons other members of the Losers Club to revisit their darkest nightmare.

Ben (Jay Ryan), Beverly (Chastain), Bill (McAvoy), Eddie (James Ransone), Richie (Bill Hader) and Stanley (Andy Bean) take his call, their memories of the past wiped in the intervening years.

It doesn’t take long for Pennywise to draw succour from the group’s mounting dread.

Punctuated by myriad flashbacks, It Chapter Two could comfortably excise 30 minutes of dramatic fat to quicken the pace of a sluggish second act.

The shock value of the sequel’s nerve-jangling centrepiece – Beverly’s visit to her childhood home – is dulled by its prominent inclusion in a teaser trailer.

Skarsgard’s rictus grin still unsettles and there is no denying the queasy relevance of King’s narrative, which warns against mob mentality in a society riven by scare-mongering and intolerance.

Any residual coulrophobia – fear of clowns – is comfortably cured, however, in between nervous glances at watches and perhaps a stifled yawn.

Released: September 6

RATING: 6/10