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‘It Chapter Two’ proves more isn’t always more when it comes to horror sequels

Pennywise returns in “It Chapter Two.” (Brooke Palmer/Warner Bros. Pictures)
(1.5 stars)

The heroes of “It” are known as the Losers Club. “It Chapter Two” features the same group of talented young actors as the original 2017 film, and also adds older versions of these characters, who are in their 40s. Director Andy Muschietti attempts to honor everyone involved, including Stephen King, author of the 1986 novel “It,” so the movie is like a game of musical chairs that runs too long. And since Muschietti has few scare tactics at his disposal, the film loses its capacity to frighten.

You will recall that “It” had the Losers Club defeat Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), a demonic spirit that can take many forms but prefers that of a demented clown. Twenty-seven years pass — this film is set in 2016 — and only Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) remembers what happened. Like a bad nightmare, the rest of them barely recall that period in their young lives. Now that Pennywise is on the prowl again, hunting children and other vulnerable people, Mike contacts the rest of the Losers and asks them to return to Derry, Maine. Only together can they defeat Pennywise once and for all.

At first, Muschietti successfully taps into the novelty of older actors playing adult versions of child characters. James Ransone plays the older version of Eddie, the hypochondriac motormouth, and he finds heartbreaking notes of paralyzing fear. Bill Hader leaves a strong impression as Richie, the bespectacled comic relief whose need to tell jokes is almost a crutch. Mike asks the Losers to venture out alone, effectively reacquainting them with the events of that fateful summer and reliving past traumas.

Once the Losers separate in Derry, “Chapter Two” grinds to a halt. This sequence is essentially an opportunity for every actor, both young and old, to interact with some version of Pennywise. Once again Muschietti relies on jump scares and unsettling imagery, techniques that are, admittedly, effective. But after yet another Loser experiences an ultra-vivid hallucination, we get the point. At nearly three hours long, the need to resolve every subplot creates a gnawing sense of impatience. Screenwriter Gary Dauberman includes meta-jokes about how King never quite knows how to nail an ending, but that common criticism exists for a reason.

Monsters and giant clowns are not the only thing that make the film disturbing. “Chapter Two” opens with a violent hate crime, and adult Beverly (Jessica Chastain) deals with brutal domestic abuse. Maybe these scenes are meant to show this is a more “mature” horror film, except Muschietti does not deal with their ramifications in a sensitive or dramatically consistent way. Real trauma is given the same consideration as a literal funhouse of horrors, which cheapens what the characters and audience are put through.

The first “It” was such a commercial and critical success because it was essentially a coming-of-age film with some scary bits thrown in. Moreover, Muschietti used the first battle against Pennywise as a metaphor for self-reliance and the loss of innocence. Now that the characters are older, there are fewer lessons for them to learn, so “Chapter Two” regresses them into a childlike state. Romantic subplots are indelicate, and shared grief arrives with less trauma. The cumulative effect is downright maudlin, which is not what you might expect from a film with gallons of blood and other bodily fluids.

R. At area theaters. Contains disturbing violent content and bloody images throughout, pervasive crude language and some crude sexual material. 169 minutes.