By Jack Dignan
IT fucking rocks. As a horror movie, IT works. As a coming of age drama, IT works. And as a high school teen comedy, IT works. I don’t really watch horror movies more than once in theaters. They’re either too scary to revisit, or just not scary enough, but with IT, something about it drew me back in. It was calling to me, luring me back to into it’s terrifying grasp. I love IT. In fact, I love IT even more now than I did after initially leaving the screening, but it does beg the question of “where to go next?” So, in answering that, be warned. There are major spoilers to be found here, and even some very, very minor ones from the book (but I’ll try keep things vague).
Adapting half a book is hard. You’re trying to tell an emotionally satisfying narrative without delving into the second half of the story. Or, as is the case for the overstretched Hobbit trilogy, without delving into the second and third acts of the story. While IT mostly succeeds in this regard, it does leave some threads left hanging. You don’t get all the answers here. And you certainly don’t get the nostalgic, sweet ending of Stephen King’s mega-novel, but they come close. IT leaves you thirsty for more, and if the rumoured 2019 release date for the sequel is to be believed, we certainly won’t have to wait too long for answers.
The finale of IT sees our group of heroes overcoming their fears, working together and taking down Bill Skarsgård’s terrifying foe, Pennywise. Except they didn’t. Pennywise may have fallen down that hole, his face bursting and blood floating, but it’s far from dead. It takes more than a little hunger to keep Pennywise at bay, for it’s merely beginning a 27-year hibernation before returning to the town of Derry to terrorize once more. It will return. When it does, it’ll be deadlier, hungrier and more vicious than ever. As book readers know, shit’s about to hit the fan, but to make for a satisfying sequel, certain elements are going to need a change up. Especially with the way things ended here (i.e. Henry Bowers potentially dying, despite having a prominent role as adults).
IT: Chapter One, the secret title revealed during the closing credits, wasn’t afraid to change things up. Scares were altered. Fears were dramatized. The book, which set this part of the story in the fifties, saw our heroes facing more mundane threats, like werewolves and mummies. Elements remained, such as Eddie’s leper and Beverly’s exploding sink of blood, but the general gist of things received a switch up. For good reason. It worked to benefit the story, creating unpredictability for everyone, even if you’ve read the book (or even the leaked Chase Palmer and Cary Fukunaga draft). Plus, we didn’t have to watch that infamous sewer-set child orgy. Doing something similar for the sequel, while still staying true to the book, will once again result in cinematic magic.
Stephen King’s book intercuts between the two narratives. The first, as depicted in the film, sees the characters as kids, facing off against it for the first time. The second sees them return to face it again as adults. For the films, these narratives have been split in two, but in the book, they play back to back with each other. As adults, the Loser’s Club reunites, traces their steps and confronts it again. The duel narratives follow similar plot beats, which work in the context of the book, allowing for a comparison between innocence and innocence lost, and being forced to confront a childhood long forgotten. One of the issues with splitting up the narratives into separate films is that they’re going to follow near-identical story arcs. But there is a solution.
An unofficial subtitle used for this first film was IT: Chapter One – The Loser’s Club. If rumours are once again to be believed, the unofficial subtitle for the sequel will be IT: Chapter Two – Pennywise. Pennywise is the key to all of this. Hearing the perspective of fans that haven’t read the book is interesting, as the biggest thing they want to know more of is who Pennywise is, how it got here and what’s its agenda? Well, to put it frank, its origin is weird. Very fucking weird. Reading it is one thing, but putting it on the screen is another beast entirely, but that’s exactly what the sequel needs to do. As excited as I am, I don’t want a rehash of the first film with the characters now middle aged. I want things to delve deep into the history of Pennywise, embracing its supernatural sci-fi-esque origins and going full on with weirdness.
This first film has viewers hooked. It’s set to make over $100 million just this weekend alone. Not adding in any of Pennywise’s origins or past appearances was a safe and understandable bet. Director Andy Mushietti has stated that he wanted to keep things grounded in this first installment, so as not to loose the audience. It’s a good idea. It works. But the same can’t happen for the sequel. Due to budget restrictions, Mushietti was forced to remove a number of terrifying sequences from the script, most notably the Black Spot massacre. He’s expressed interest in using that as the opening for the sequel, and personally, I’m down. Pennywise is a character that audiences want to explore on the big screen. The more we get of that nightmare-inducing clown, the better.
I’m really restricting myself in what I can say, for I don’t want to ruin the book nor second film (I highly recommend reading IT), but if the sequel is to delve deeper into the supernatural elements, I don’t want them to hold back. We already care about these characters. Sure, they’ll need to be reintroduced, but we know who they are. We love them. The one character left unexplained is Pennywise, and the sequel can’t just have them appear every now and again before disappearing and then ultimately being defeated. It was taken down by a bunch of hormonal teens. The threat of it’s character needs to be amped up, and introducing its true state of being, known as the dead lights, while also explaining its prominent role in history and the cosmos will do just that.
Really, there are so many directions you could take the sequel. The first film is a revelation of the horror genre, much like with this year’s other hit, Get Out. When doing the second, it’s important to flex the limits of what audiences can handle, while keeping one foot firmly in the ground because, quite frankly, where we’re at now is phenomenal. The sequel will no doubt receive a bigger budget, with more room to play around. Make it bigger. Make it weirder. And make it even more traumatic than audiences are ready for. Pennywise is a weapon. After the sequel, Pennywise will no-doubt go down as one of cinema’s greatest villains.
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