The horror and fear of Pennywise, the dancing clown, has been a staple in the minds of many for decades following Tim Curry’s transformative work in the Made-for-TV movie from 1990.  Director Andy Muschetti reinvented not just the iconic character by casting the talented Bill Skarsgård in the terrifying role but gave heart and emotion within its casting of six amazingly talented young people. There was much excitement to come back to Derry and see how Muschetti and the team would stitch it all together with the anticipated “It: Chapter Two.” While a strong start places us firmly back in this world of horror and frightening antics, a bloated runtime and cramped conclusion make the film an uneven resolution.  Just as ambitious, as it is frightening, the horror saga boasts pure entertainment and chuckles.

It: Chapter Two” picks up twenty-seven years after the “Losers Club” has their first encounter with the terrifying Pennywise (Skarsgård).  All grown up and moved away; the group must now reunite to defeat once and for all, the epitome of fear before it destroys them once and for all.

One of the exquisite pieces to the film is very raw and impassioned turn from Emmy Award winner Bill Hader as the comical and adult Richie Tozier.  Hader has demonstrated his ability to slide into nearly any role he takes on.  Whether it’s the brother with secrets in “The Skeleton Twins” or the lovable love interest in “Trainwreck,” Hader infuses a new, exciting interpretation with each outing and he taps and invents Richie as we’ve never known him before.  Superbly effective and vividly executed, Hader is the heart and soul of the horror epic.

Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain is an effortless thespian, looking for new and subtle ways to show a different side.  The source material has always been problematic for Beverly as an adult, unsure of her ways and seemingly too fluid with her relationship with the other boys.  Chastain sheds most of that to give Beverly strength and action in her movements.

The film’s most potent highlights exist, once again, in its masterful ensemble of actors.  With much-limited screentime as this time around, Jack Dylan Grazer as the nervous and hysterical Eddie and Sophia Lillis as the strong yet vulnerable Beverly are taking the lead in standing out as the younger versions. In the adults, Isaiah Mustafa sizzles as adult Mike Hanlon while James McAvoy and James Ransone bring their adult versions of Eddie and Bill to a satisfying position.  Andy Bean‘s adult Stanley is afforded an opportunity to right the ship with an emotional and beautiful scene that can only be described as the single best scene of the entire series of films.

With 2 hours and 45 minutes of story, the easiest fix for the film would be a clear split into two movies.  What would have been likely interpreted like a cash grab by audiences, quick forgiveness would have been afforded once they saw a more satisfying and productive creation.

Writer Gary Dauberman inserts a real-life story from author Stephen King‘s hometown that opens the film, which sets in motion all the actions after. While that is felt and palpable throughout, Muschetti’s choice to subtly leave the character’s in their end positions does not give the viewer enough to satisfy their appetite to say goodbye properly to the Losers.

The visuals are also not what you would expect and are quite disappointing in where they chose to put their budget.  Unclean and uneven, it seems as if none of the filmmakers, producers, or studio executives knew that the razzle-dazzle of the first installment was in the story and performances, and not the spectacle and effects.

It: Chapter Two” has elements that will keep you invested and stapled to the chair.  Horror is still very present, and the film expertly marries fear and emotion.  These characters are far too loved to leave abandoned.  Hader and Chastain are tour-de-forces.  Hoping for better, perhaps this was the best version we were ever going to receive.  Summer’s horror season ends on a clown high.

“It: Chapter Two” is distributed by Warner Bros. and opens on Sept. 6.

GRADE: (★★½)