IT Chapter Two – Redefining and transcending the horror genre

Evil resurfaces in Derry as director Andy Muschietti reunites the Losers Club in a return to where it all began with IT Chapter Two, the conclusion to the highest-grossing horror film of all time.

Muschietti directed IT Chapter Two from a screenplay by Gary Dauberman (IT, the Annabelle films) based on the novel IT by Stephen King, and is follow-up to 2017’s critically acclaimed and massive global box office hit IT, which grossed more than $700 million worldwide. Both redefining and transcending the horror genre, IT became part of the cultural zeitgeist.

Andy Muschietti

Twenty-seven years after the Losers’ Club defeated Pennywise ( Bill Skarsgård), he has returned to terrorize the town of Derry once more. Now adults, the Losers have long since gone their separate ways. However, people are disappearing again, so Mike, the only one of the group to remain in their hometown, calls the others home. Damaged by the experiences of their past, they must each conquer their deepest fears to destroy Pennywise once and for all…putting them directly in the path of the shape-shifting clown that has become deadlier than ever.

At the end of 2017’s IT, the game-changing motion picture adaptation of Stephen King’s quintessential horror novel, the young members of the Losers’ Club are sitting in the sunshine, days after their defeat of Pennywise in the sewers below. The only ones in Derry truly aware of the pernicious evil that nearly annihilated the town, they swear a blood oath to come back if their efforts to destroy the malevolent presence weren’t successful. If, indeed, Pennywise ever returns…

Twenty-seven years later, IT does.    

For Andy Muschietti—director of the global phenomenon “IT” and now, the epic conclusion, “IT Chapter Two”—IT never really left him. While the first film was busy racking up critical praise, fan love and record-setting ticket sales, Muschietti had already plunged headlong into early pre-production on the final chapter of what was always planned as a two-film telling of King’s seminal novel.

Reacting to the first movie’s astonishing success, the director says, “I’ve been with this project for a long time, shaping it, going through the challenges of that, and also having a lot of fun. I had such a strong connection with the process of making the film, it was hard for me to see it from the other side. But obviously, it was amazing, and I was incredibly pleased and really flattered.”

Muschietti did see, however, the urgency to return to Derry. He continues, “The hook effect in the whole thing was incredible. People became emotionally invested in the characters and the story, and at the end of the movie, there was a promise of something to come. Basically, if IT returns, the Losers will, too. I shared the moviegoers’ need to see the second half of the story, the conclusion. This second chapter is as necessary to tell as the first. I couldn’t have been more excited to jump in and start imagining what that would be.”

Andy Muschietti and Bill Skarsgård who plays the iconic Pennywise

For Gary Dauberman, screenwriter of both IT and IT Chapter Two, working on the big-screen adaptation of King’s monolithic tome was pretty much an uninterrupted process. Dauberman attests, “We never really stopped tossing ideas back and forth and continuing the conversation we started on the first film, because I think we just wanted to keep carrying the momentum forward. We developed a real sense of ease with one another working on the first one, and that really helped the creative process. You always want the freedom to throw out an idea that might not work, because that idea may lead to one that does. Andy and Barbara understand that as well, and it makes the collaboration really comfortable and effortless in a lot of ways.” 

Gary Dauberman

Barbara Muschietti—who produces along with Dan Lin and Roy Lee—adds, “The book is over 1,100 pages, and our first film covers maybe 300 of those. We understood that the conclusion was going to be a bigger story with twice the amount of characters: Losers as both kids and adults. But this film is much, much more in every way. Deeper. Better. Scarier. Epic.”

With “IT,” filmmakers had chosen to break stylistically from the narrative form of King’s novel—which continually leapfrogs in time—by telling the story of the young Losers only. This time around, the screenplay would include events from the summer of 1989 not previously revealed, functioning not only as the present-day adults’ flashbacks to their younger selves, but also filling in the memory gaps almost all the older Losers seem to have.

The director comments, “I love the dialogue between the two timelines in the book and I always wanted to include that in the second film. ‘IT Chapter Two’ is the story of the Losers as adults 27 years later, but they go back to their memories to retrieve something that is very, very necessary. They have to remember who they were, as well as their amazing bond with each other.”

In addition to adopting the novel’s storytelling structure, Muschietti increased the King quotient by including the novelist more directly. He says, “Stephen is very respectful of adaptations, and our communications with him started when we were nearly finished with the first chapter. We screened it for him, and he reacted very positively. I didn’t want to let the chance go by without getting his thoughts for our second film.”

King remarks, “I had hopes for the film, but I was not prepared for how good ‘IT’ was. I think the best vote of confidence for the second movie is that when the first movie ended with a title card that says, ‘IT Chapter One,’ audiences applauded. They wanted more. Now, they’re going to get the rest. It’s not a sequel; it’s the second half of one unified story.

“I remember when I was working on the novel,” the author continues, shifting gears, “I was on a walk when I saw this little girl sitting at the side of the road, drawing in the dust and talking to herself about the imaginary people in her doodles. I thought, ‘What if it was an adult doing that?’ We understand that kids have a wider perspective. Their imaginations are unfettered and as we grow older, it becomes tougher and tougher to hold on to that imagination. So, what I really wanted to do with IT was to bring these people back as adults. Having had this experience when they were kids, they are the only ones who have a chance to recapture that imaginative capacity they had as children and use that against IT.”

Barbara Muschietti initially came across King’s expansive novel as a teenager who enjoyed broadening her imaginative capacity through reading. She recalls, “I read the book as a 15-year-old, and the story of these 13-year-old characters battling this horrendous evil, along with bigotry, sexism and anti-Semitism, really empowered me.”       

The filmmakers had always been committed to incorporating those themes from King’s book in the film. She continues, “The soul of Derry is even worse than it was 27 years ago at the time of ‘IT.’ The bigotry, hatred, the lack of empathy… This fog is everywhere, and residents don’t see how bad it is. That’s part of the spell. Leaving Derry, your memory of the town and your time there fades. But if you stay, your life is deadened, enveloped in this fog. Horrendous things occur, but they just don’t register.”

One such atrocious event is a watershed moment for both King and fans of the book, and filmmakers were intent upon its inclusion. Barbara Muschietti says, “Part of King’s genius was to write about this hate crime within a setting as festive as a carnival. It was his way of reacting to an actual incident in Bangor, Maine. A lot of fans kept asking, ‘Are you going to include the Adrian Mellon scene?’ Of course, we were always going to. The sequence is jarring and very hard for the brain to comprehend—how humans can behave like this, attacking someone for whom he loves. Ultimately, it’s essential to understanding Derry, how crazy and blind it is.”

Dauberman observes, “Pennywise’s influence, even during his slumber, has really taken hold of the town in ways we didn’t see in the first movie. It feels a lot more hopeless, as if Derry is making its last dying gasp before fully succumbing to IT. When the Losers return, Pennywise becomes much more desperate to take them out, as he knows they are really the only thing standing in the way of his fully consuming Derry.” 

            The only woman among the Losers is played by Jessica Chastain, who first worked with the Muschiettis in 2012, starring in their horror film “Mama.” Since then, the three have remained good friends.

The actress professes, “I loved the first film and really responded to the character of Beverly Marsh, played by Sophia Lillis. She is such a dynamic presence and, in many cases, is the most brave. She’s seen a lot of darkness in her life and because of that, it creates a fearlessness in her.”

Chastain’s castmate, James McAvoy, shared her appreciation of both the first film and the novel. McAvoy, who calls himself a “massive” fan of King, responds to not only the scope of the writer’s works, but also, the larger-than-life themes woven into his stories. The actor says, “Some of his books are the kind you can read two or three times. There’s so much to mine out of them. I read IT when I was 12. There’s this battle between an ancient evil and a group of kids, who then return to fight it as adults. These seven kids are a magical army, imbued with this unifying belief. If believing is the thing that wins the day, a kid has the power to believe way more than an adult does. So, going back up against Pennywise 27 years later, the Losers are hamstrung. As adults, they no longer believe in magic, they believe in the mundane. The only way they are going to defeat IT is by rediscovering themselves as children, again believing in monsters and challenging him on his own terms.”

Bill Hader, who refers to himself as “a big Stephen King nerd,” remembers, “I was just knocked out by ‘IT.’ From the opening scene with Georgie, I thought it was vivid, gorgeous-looking and unbelievably terrifying. It was also emotional and funny, and had a real pathos. The young actors were wonderful and incredibly subtle—Andy got great performances from them. And at the end, when they promise to come back if IT ever returns, I thought, ‘Man, that will be rad! We’ve got another movie coming up!’” He finishes with a laugh, “I never really thought beyond, ‘Can’t wait to see that!’”

Joining McAvoy, Chastain and Hader as adult Losers are Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone and Andy Bean. Returning in their roles as the younger Losers, in addition to Lillis, are Jaeden Martel, Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs and Jeremy Ray Taylor. Bill Skarsgård is once again Pennywise.

Andy Muschietti says, “All of the actors bring their own energy, their own understanding of these characters. In Chapter One, we met a bunch of children who are pure and unclouded. This is 27 years later and these characters are now broken. Even though they are successful in their professional and social lives, they’re damaged deep inside. They all have different reactions when Mike calls them to say, ‘Come home,’ some even physical. But there is something, just the smoke of a memory, that compels them to take the journey.”

King calls that something “faith. There is a change when you become adults. There is a tendency to count the cost. There’s a natural hesitation from the Losers—it’s hard to leave their lives and take a chance. But, they not only have faith in each other, they have faith in this promise that they made as children. When you face the unknown, if you don’t have faith, you’re f***ed.”

The power of these individuals who find a sense of belonging and unity in being Losers had always hit home with Muschietti, who also read the book in his youth. He says, “It was a story that spoke to me about experiences I was having. It was a kind of mirror that showed all of the awkwardness and insecurities at that age. Reading IT again as an adult, you understand it from a different perspective. It is basically a love letter to childhood and talks about all of the treasures of that time, like imagination and belief, that are inevitably lost in adulthood. That’s why these special kids, who now happen to be adults, are the hope in this story.”