Spoilers lie in the sewers. So back away from the drain if you haven’t seen the film yet.
When I was thirteen, my mom bestowed upon me her battered copy of IT by Stephen King, which she’d owned, and read every year, since 1986. And from that moment on, right through the lonely years of my adolescence, and the still at times lonely years of my twenties, I have loved Bill, Ben, Bevvy, Stan, Eddie, Mike and Richie.
I have watched the TV miniseries, and share the same opinion with many that it is a wonderfully faithful adaptation, with a great central performance by Tim Curry as the titular monster. The losers are also well cast in both childhood and adulthood. But the ending is a let down. The idea of IT being a huge spider in the book is terrifying. She is one of the ultimate human, never mind just childhood, fears come to life. A great bloated arachnid, feeding off of the souls of Derry. But the miniseries forgot that IT isn’t only a spider. That her true form is that of the deadlights. Those terrible things that enthral and eventually destroy the mind.
Because of my love for the book, and my liking of the miniseries, but not love of, I had high hopes for both of the IT films. Although I kept my expectations lower than I naturally would have because book adaptations are notoriously disappointing. When I watched IT Chapter One, I was delighted at how faithful they had been to the book, aside from updating the story from the 1950s, the era of King’s childhood, to the 1980s, which was the era in which many of his biggest fans grew up, including my mother. I love everything about the film: from the casting of the children and IT, to the manner in which the filmmakers understood that the entire first part of the book could not be undertaken, but that its essence needed to be preserved. I love the little Easter eggs, and had such a wonderful time finding them and dissecting them.
And so I was fearful and excited for Chapter Two. Would it be as good? Would I love it as much as the first film? Would I feel as attached? Would they do Stephen King’s universe justice?
Yes to all those things.
Reception for the film has been mixed, to say the least. The online furore has been pretty intense. While the film has done very well financially, once again proving that despite naysaying for decades, horror films can be very profitable when made and marketed properly. There have been criticism of the film’s runtime, the scares not being as intense as the first film, and the film maybe being too faithful to the original or not faithful enough. The film holds a 3.2 score on Letterboxd, compared to its predecessor’s 3.6. But that’s still pretty good for Letterboxd, where people gleefully give films half a star.
For me, the film once again understands the point of King’s story, which is not the gore or the horror. Yes Stephen King has been called the king (wink wink) of horror, but what drives his stories is characters, their development and interaction with each other. There are parts in the original novel that are almost too much to bear in terms of how gruesome and horrifying they are, like one poor little abused boy getting his head ripped off by IT in the guise of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. But what’s really horrifying about the story is Bevvy’s abuse by her father, definitely physical and perhaps sexual, too, and how she marries an equally abusive man; how Patrick Hogsetter murders his baby brother in a fit of jealous rage, and how children die in a town under a thrall of some kind. IT’s ruthless exploitation of the adult town’s folk’s apathy, their greed, their bloodlust, their neglect of their children.
Sure the leper in Neibolt Street is terrifying, as is the mummy across the ice near the library, and the burning down of the black spot horrifying. But they are terrible and scary because of the stakes they represent for the main characters. And that’s what Andy Muschietti doesn’t fail to realise. He doesn’t give you scares in either film at the expense of showing you how much Ben loved Bevvy when they were children. His haiku for her rings sweetly throughout the film, a testament to his untarnished love her. Stan’s death is so poignant because time is taken to show how much his wife loves him, and how he sacrifices himself for friends that he never stopped loving, even when he didn’t realise he did. I would rather have all of these things in the deep, wonderful form that they are in the book and the films, than excessive scares that just leave me fatigued and annoyed after a while. That’s the problem with most modern horror films. They rely so much on jump scares at the expense of everything else, like meaningfully plot and characters, that they become instantly forgettable.
IT Chapter Two isn’t like that. The fact that the film sparked such discussion on line amongst its audience, and how passionately people have defended, as I am doing now, means that it does a lot of things right. And the most important thing that it does right is its cast of adult leads, and how it treats their story and stories. How it shows that they are the same and different to how they were. How they are scared and unsure. How they have so much hope for the future, despite the terrible things that lay ahead. That they never give up, even when IT is on the edge of making sure they do. As in the novel, the film makes it very clear that the losers embrace the magic and wonder of childhood in order to defeat IT, but that they also realise that convincing yourself that childhood fears can be reduced and overcome is also necessary for healing to take place as an adult.
All of the adult losers give great performances throughout the film. But for me, unsurprisingly, the standouts are Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy and Bill Hader. Jessica Chastain shows the vulnerability and strength of Bevvy without trying too hard. She recognises that scared little girl within her, and how she needs to quiet her, calm her and put her away forever. Chastain’s acting during her character’s climatic face off with IT is absolutely incredible. As she is almost subsumed by blood and the filth that was directed at her as a child, Chastain shows how her love for another, but also her realisation that she is worthy of love in return, is what saves her.
Bill is a difficult character to play. Although he’s the leader of the losers, he’s innately flawed and actually quite unlikeable at times. But James McAvoy shows you that Bill is a sympathetic character. That he should be rooted for even in his darkest, most annoying moments. That his self sacrifice is what makes him a good man, but that his eventual understanding that this is not all he is destined to do, means he becomes a more rounded character. Watching McAvoy cry is really, really tough. And that’s not because he’s bad at it, but because he makes it so apparent how broken Bill is over the death of his younger brother. I think that McAvoy once again shows why he is one of the best actor’s of his generation in spades in this film. A weaker actor would have just made Bill seem whiny.
Richie is a character that is funny, but also deeply scarred by his childhood insecurities. In the film, Richie is gay, and while some may moan about that, I think that it adds to the use of humour to suppress what he feels. The fact that Eddie is the object of his love from childhood to adulthood makes things very poignant. Hader understands that Richie’s humour hides pain, and every time the actor cracks a joke as Trashmouth Tozier, you see the agony behind the smile, the self loathing. In the end. Richie comes to terms with who he is, and Hader shows that with no dialogue. The expression on his face and his body language are all that we need. And there’s nothing showy about it.
You may, and probably do, disagree with my assessment of the film. And that’s fine. But I stand by what I’ve written because I think that Stephen King is finally getting the adaptations that his work deserves.
Oh and one last thing: I loved the ending.