Three stars

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.

Three stars

An emotionally troubled swimmer gains a new perspective on life in a raucous road trip reminiscent of The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, co-directed by Maxime Govare and Cedric le Gallo.

Olympic champion Matthias Le Goff (Nicolas Goff) is overshadowed by younger rivals and, during a testy exchange with a TV reporter, he issues a homophobic slur.

The national swimming federation forces Matthias to atone by coaching a gay water polo team, the Shiny Shrimps, who are hoping to qualify for a berth at the forthcoming Gay Games.

While the polo team’s founder, restaurant owner Jean (Alban Lenoir), welcomes Matthias with open arms, other members, like fervent activist Joel (Roland Menou), are less forgiving.

A team vote seals the deal and Matthias imparts his winning mentality on the rest of the crew: Alex (David Baiot), Cedric (Michael Abiteboul), Damien (Romain Lancry), Fred (Romain Brau), Vincent (Felix Martinez) and Xavier (Geoffrey Couet).

As the Gay Games in Croatia loom, Matthias confronts his prejudices and inspires the Shiny Shrimps to dream of unlikely victories in and out of the pool.

Three stars

Live action photography melds with 3D animation in a family-friendly sequel to the 2013 film Minuscule: Valley Of The Lost Ants, directed by Thomas Szabo and Helene Giraud.

As snowflakes begin to fall in a valley in eastern France and insects gather supplies to tide them through the winter, a young ladybird is accidentally trapped inside a parcel destined for sun-kissed Guadeloupe in the Caribbean.

A dream team of tiny friends joins forces to launch a daring rescue mission. Their path leads to a jungle filled with strange and terrifying beasties, including a voracious tarantula and a praying mantis blessed with the power of hypnotic suggestion.

Transplanted to this alien environment, the European interlopers fashion makeshift tools and weapons from the flora and fauna.

Three stars

Seven friends reunite to save one of their children in a Hindi-language comedy drama directed by Nitesh Tiwari.

In 1992, Annirudh (Sushant Singh Rajput) forms a close bond with fellow college students Acid (Naveen Polishetty), Bevda (Saharsh Shukla), Derek (Tahir Raj Bhasin), Mummy (Tushar Pandey), Raggie (Prateik Babbar) and Sexa (Varun Sharma).

They create cherished memories together and gleefully pursue the beautiful Maya (Shradda Kapoor).

Maya showers her affections on Annirudh. Many years later, Maya and Annirudh are married and facing a crisis.

Their grown-up son is clinging to life in intensive care and the emotional strain of keeping faith is gradually tearing the parents apart.

In their hour of need, Maya and Annirudh are buoyed by the unswerving love and support of Acid, Bevda, Derek, Mummy, Raggie and Sexa for an emotional reunion that none of them expected.