In the fictional town of Derry, Maine, 27 years have passed, but in the real world, it’s only been two years since the first chapter of Stephen King’s IT floated into cinemas. While the original novel was able to deftly weave the story of the young Losers’ Club with that of their adult counterparts, the two-part film version faced extra challenges in bringing the text to life.
The nature of the story and the decision to split the adaptation meant director Andy Muschietti had to find a way to convincingly portray the characters at both ages, bring the setting forward three decades and retain a consistent filmmaking style to tie both chapters together neatly.
Hollywood always warns filmmakers to never work with children, but Muschietti managed to avoid the pitfalls and succeed with his young cast, turning IT into the highest-grossing horror film ever at the box office.
In following the first chapter, the most obvious hurdle was to find an adult cast that not only looked the part, but could match the subtleties in their performances. From trailers and promotional materials released so far, it looks as though Muschietti has pulled it off well by recruiting Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, James Ransone, Jay Ryan, Isaiah Mustafa, and Andy Bean as the present-day Losers’ Club.
The entire cast of IT Chapter Two was present at Warner Brothers’ San Diego Comic-Con panel in mid-July, and while on stage they discussed the methods they used to fill the roles already established in the first film. For the most part, they claimed to have studied the mannerisms and physical tics displayed by their younger counterparts. The young cast members were also tasked with writing letters to their older selves, which were shared with the adult actors. Aside from finding them adorable, the older cast took cues from these letters and used them to develop their characters.
In the cast’s shift from childhood to adulthood, there has also been a change in the story’s central theme. While the first chapter was about friendship and the power that can be gained from working and believing together, the second chapter will cover darker territory. Considering the events that the Losers’ Club endured together, it makes sense that IT Chapter Two will look at the serious issue of childhood trauma. In much the same way that the clown-entity Pennywise reappears in their lives after 27 years, each of the characters finds themselves suffering as a result of their scarring experiences as children. James McAvoy, who plays Bill in the film, is struggling with survivor’s guilt after his little brother, Georgie, was brutally murdered by Pennywise.
At San Diego Comic-Con, McAvoy said: “I think childhood trauma is something that every single character in this movie has to deal with, and each and every one of us had to do our own specific research. Specifically for me, it had a lot to do with survivor guilt and that survivor complex. But the trauma they suffered and the consequences of that trauma might be different for each person.”
Muschietti promised that we’ll discover things that we didn’t know about the characters, and delve deeper into the psychological effects that the events of the summer of 1989 had on their lives. It’s not often that cinema is given the opportunity to dedicate one whole film to characters in childhood, and another in adulthood. Muschietti seems to be making the most of the opportunity to build something as meaningful as King’s source material. During SDCC, Bill Hader, who plays the grown-up Richie Tozier, said “There’s a lot of emotion in the movie. It really was about childhood trauma — all of us growing up together. It wasn’t just this awesome scary movie, which it is, but it also has a really beautiful story to it.”
The huge success of the first chapter has allowed for further breathing room in Chapter Two, with an already confirmed running time of 165 minutes, which is a length most uncommon in the horror genre. If the scenes shared at San Diego Comic-Con are any indication, such as one with the group reuniting for the first time in adulthood, this extra freedom has allowed for a greater focus on characters than a usual horror film, which goes straight for the action.
But length isn’t the only luxury afforded by the success. Muschietti and the cast made a big deal about how the special effects will see a step up in intensity, with particular mention of the amount of blood. Appearing on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Jessica Chastain, who plays the adult Beverly Marsh, said: “In the movie, there’s a scene that someone said on set has the most blood that’s ever been in a horror film.”
However, the extra budget for visual effects hasn’t just been used for more blood and gore. They’re also used to retain consistency between the way the child actors look in the first chapter, and how they look in a reportedly extensive flashback sequence. In a controversial move, a new visual effects technology has been used to “de-age” the young cast.
While speaking with Total Film, Muschietti said: “In those two years, they grew up quite a bit. Not all of them. Sophia looks exactly the same. Jaeden looks pretty much the same. Finn grew up quite a bit, and he’s a tall guy. But from the beginning, we knew that that would be part of the budget, the visual effects to address that. So we’re going to de-age the kids.”
It’s clear that a huge amount of effort has gone into making sure the 27-year gap between stories isn’t jarring. The footage shown at SDCC has shown an approach to colour and lighting that gels with that of the first film, while making subtle changes to provide the audience with visual cues to smooth the switch between the older and younger versions of the characters.
While much has changed in Derry, Maine in those 27 years, there’s one thing that remains consistent: Pennywise. Bill Skarsgård’s interpretation of the evil clown looks to be every bit as unnerving as it was in the first chapter, and if anything needed to stay the same, it’s him. Everything we’ve seen so far confirms that he’ll be just as scary as ever, if not more so.
‘It Chapter Two’ opens in Australia on September 5.