Twenty-seven years after the events of It, Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård) crawls back out of Derry, Maine’s sewers and into the lives of the Losers Club (who are now all grown up, and played by the likes of James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain and Bill Hader).
It: Chapter 2 is the terrifying and poignant closing half of director Andy Muschietti’s adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 opus. Flip-flopping between its main characters’ adult present and adolescent past to detail their arduous process of coping with trauma, it’s a film that, at 169 minutes, is as mammoth as its source material, even as it exhibits the same nightmare-fueled sense of purpose as its 2017 predecessor.
As before, Muschietti infuses King’s saga with equal measures of dread, insanity, and empathy—the latter of which is so lavishly bestowed upon his main characters (in both time periods) that It: Chapter 2 proves the rare genre epic with as much heart as horror. That’s also in keeping with the best-selling author’s tome, although to be sure, there are plenty of changes to be found in this cinematic retelling.
While Muschietti admits that he’s now ready for a brief break from circus-freak mayhem—“I’m pretty done with clowns for a couple of months,” he laughs. “I’ve filled my quota, and I’m pretty satisfied with all the clown exploration”—he’s eager to talk about ushering Chapter 2 to the big screen. On the eve of the sequel’s Sept. 6 premiere, he spoke with us about the difficulties posed by his latest (penned by Gary Dauberman), his reasons for including and discarding certain memorable elements, and the possibility of a single extended version of It – as well as his own return to the King universe.
Condensing King’s sprawling novel was no easy task.
At 1,138 pages, It isn’t a quick read. Nor is it straightforward; told across two timelines and filled with flashbacks, peripheral accounts and asides, it has a gargantuan scope and scale. Consequently, “the challenge for us was mainly translating a literary narrative into a film language,” Muschietti says. “The story, as it happens in the book, takes more time, it’s looser, and everything that happens is not necessarily a consequence of previous events. It’s also interrupted by interludes and flashbacks. It’s a great experience, it’s very experiential, but it’s a looser kind of story.
When you make a movie, you have to make things denser, you have to build consequentiality. That inevitably throws you into changing things. You have to make everything tighter, pressing, almost like real-time, so it evolves into a film experience that is full of emotions and sensations.”
Muschietti always wanted to include the Ritual of Chüd, but in a unique way.
In King’s novel, young Bill Denbrough defeats Pennywise by using the ancient Ritual of Chüd, a form of psychic warfare carried out in a mystical realm known as the “Macroverse.” That didn’t make it into 2017’s It, but it wasn’t for lack of trying on Muschietti’s part. “The Ritual of Chüd appears as part of the kids’ timeline, and I wanted to include it in the first film, but I didn’t have enough canvas or running time, and it just didn’t fit in the structure. But I promised that I would pick it up again in Chapter 2, and it really fit in the new scheme of things.”
This isn’t, however, your daddy’s Ritual, thanks to Mike Hanlon’s (Isaiah Mustafa) reconfigured motivation. “Mike has been exploring Derry for 27 years, and in this movie his investigation is probably a little more functional. He wants to find out how to kill Pennywise. And he reaches a dead end. Then, he tells Bill a story that he got in contact with a native community that used to live in Derry, and they showed him the Ritual of Chüd, which is something mythological that Mike chooses to use as the only way to get the Losers back into believing something.”
Togetherness is key in Chapter 2, and the Ritual is how the Losers Club come to derive strength from each other. “At the end of his investigation, Mike realizes that the only weapon that can bring Pennywise down is the power of unified belief. If you follow the logic of the story, kids believe and adults don’t. And the only way for Mike to make these adults access the power of unified belief is basically by telling them a lie.” As a result, Muschietti confesses that “The Ritual of Chüd is a bit of a MacGuffin. It’s something that Mike claims is something that existed, was true, and worked, when it actually didn’t.”
To prevent things from getting too fantastical, the “Macroverse” and its magical turtle Maturin had to go.
While The Ritual of Chüd was a malleable enough concept to make the final cut, the Macroverse itself—and its good-guy denizen Maturin, a giant turtle that aids Bill in his battle against Pennywise—wasn’t so fortunate, since it conflicted with Muschietti’s character-centric approach to the tale.
“I knew that I wanted to keep this story from the perspective of our human characters; even with all the humor and horror that it has, it’s still a character-driven horror-drama,” Muschietti says. “The moment that you start going deeper into the mythology, and actually showing what’s on the other side—getting glimpses of what the Macroverse is, and showing the turtle—it starts to flirt with a different genre, which is fantasy.”
In his opinion, those out-there concepts “always messed with the authenticity of the human experience. [Furthermore], the other thing that I take from King that he does so well, at least for a big part of the book, is keeping this other side mysterious. He’s very cryptic about a lot of things. Of course at the end, we see Bill flying into the Macroverse and the void and the turtle and everything else. But that’s a place that I didn’t want to go, because that’s confirmation of something. When that happens, the mystery goes away. And there’s enough mystery in the monster and in the human element of this drama that need attention.”
Stephen King did not write a new scene for Chapter 2—but he did provide a personal wish list for the sequel.
Despite earlier reports that the author had lent a scripting hand, “Stephen didn’t write a scene, or didn’t intend to participate in the writing of a scene,” explains Muschietti. That said, the filmmaker consulted with the Master of Horror about Chapter 2, especially since King was a fan of his prior Pennywise outing.
“After the first movie, Stephen saw it and he was really pleased with it and we started talking to each other,” Muschietti says. “That relationship evolved, and I didn’t want to start shaping the second movie without keeping him in the loop of what we were doing, so I sent him a draft, and told him, ‘All of the thoughts that you have, or ideas, let me know.’” King was happy to oblige, as the director tells it.
“He very humbly said, don’t take this as any mandate, but here’s a list of things that I would like to see in the movie. They were very simple episodes that he remembered, and [the list] sounded more like something a fan would write, than [something from] the actual guy who wrote this work,” he laughs.
The only item from King’s rundown that snuck its way into Chapter 2 was a sequence involving a very large, very angry Paul Bunyan statue. “When King said it, that was confirmation that it should be in the movie, so we included it.”
An extended version of It, combining both films into one, is definitely on Muschietti’s mind.
There are no immediate plans to merge both Its into one giant six-hour supercut, but Muschietti is ready to float the idea in the hope that the powers-that-be take a liking to it – and even let him shoot a few more sequences. “Yes, that came from us,” he admits with a chuckle. “I have to say, it’s very early in conversations, and this is not a confirmation that it will happen.
But given the trust and how collaborative the studio has been, at least it has the potential to happen. And that’s what it would be—the two movies, back-to-back, including all the scenes that we deleted, and possibly a couple of scenes that haven’t been filmed yet.”
Muschietti doesn’t know if Warner Bros. will extend the franchise past Chapter 2 – but he wouldn’t be averse to revisiting the King universe.
No matter that Chapter 2 completes King’s original narrative—in today’s Hollywood, franchises reign supreme, and Muschietti is aware that, should his sequel be a success, talk will inevitably arise about future series installments.
For now, however, he cautions that “it’s too early to tell. Of course, the whole mythology of the world of It is very attractive to me. But I really don’t have a solid project about it, and we haven’t talked about it with the studio yet.”
Nonetheless, he’s quick to add that, “it’s like my second home, It. And I would like to return to it, because I feel very comfortable with it, and I have an understanding of it, and I’m passionate about it.”