IT, by Stephen King, is a mammoth book. With over 400,000 words and a page count that is always over a 1000, it is no easy story to project to the screen. But it is also a story too tempting to leave on the page. Andy Muschietti, who directed both parts, certainly set out on a mission to bring the haunting town of Derry to life.
The Losers Club
The heart of Stephen King’s story was always the children. The group of 7- Bill, Ben, Richie, Eddie, Bev, Mike, and Stan were never out to defeat a monster or become its nemeses. The Losers Club stuck together in games, in banding against a human bully and then a supernatural one. They managed to create the safe space of belonging only childhood can, and the film captures this well.
The cast of actors roped in to play these memorable characters do everything right. We are drawn into Derry and these children who can see what the adults ignore. What makes the story complete is the ghosts and demons each child carries long before a monstrous clown shows up.
From the first scene where Bill, the unofficial leader of the Losers Club, loses his brother to a gruesome kill by Pennywise, we know that we are in the grip of a story and a monster who is not interested in acceptable limits. It is what keeps us invested and afraid.
It is the thing horror demands that the monster, the source of the fear, is undeniable. Too often, we are treated to creatures with special effects and makeup, aided by jump scares. But we forget the names of these monsters, and we shake them off with ease. But Pennywise has been around for 35 years, and this film does a great job of showing us why.
Played to eerie and maniacal perfection by Bill Skarsgård, Pennywise is everything we are afraid of, as a child or as an adult. The creature donning the form of a clown is anything but. There is true evil here, residing in the sewers, slinking about the town and eating little children. It is no fragile villain we are dealing with here, but a force that has been around for years and decades, a villain we can recognize as alien.
In both films, we see this character who we can never understand or one-up. This clown’s unpredictable and robust nature leaves both the kids and the audience terrified and unsettled- a feeling that occupies all of Stephen King’s novel.
The Two Halves
It is a perfectly understandable and wise decision even, to split the novel into two movies. With IT, there is a perfect opportunity to do so. While in the book, the childhood and adult narratives overlap and don’t stick to a linear progression, it provides the screen, a rare opportunity which the director seized.
While the cast remained stellar for the second iteration, it did not linger with audiences like the first one did. While the reasons for this may be many, including the numerous changes from the book to the screen, there is perhaps something to be said of the children. In the book, it is an undeniable fondness that the reader feels towards the Losers Club. It is a fondness that the first film managed to echo. But in the book, the adults who have forgotten the events of their childhood and have to be reminded are also discovering the children they were so fond of. With a non-linear narrative, the book keeps us invested in the children who started the whole story.
As the second film follows the adults, the film loses some of what we found in the first half. It is harsher, most desperate, and very simply. There is no fun. While this finds a balance in the book, in the movie, it creates a sense of hopelessness in the dreary town of Derry despite the jump-scares and apparent attempts at fear.
IT Chapter One and Two are not even in their level of fear, appeal or longevity. It is the threat of splitting up a book the neat way, and not in the way it was meant to be experienced. It is every book adaptation’s curse, but with a Pennywise who didn’t disappoint, a Losers Club who fought bravely and a story that is too full to ever be frail, the IT films did what the characters in the book do – the best with what they had.
IT is a Horror Film series based on the book written by Stephen King.