All images: Warner Bros.
Now that Andy Muschietti's It is a huge hit, his adaptation of the second half of Stephen King's horror novel is more highly-anticipated than ever. A few minor quibbles aside, the first film is fantastic. But It: Chapter Two, as it's unofficially titled, deals with the characters as grown-ups. That makes it a trickier prospect.
Though the sequel hasn't yet been officially greenlit, it's all but a sure thing at this point, barring the very unlikely event that someone in Hollywood decides they don't like making tons of money. Keeping that in mind, here's how we think Muschietti and company should approach It part two.
Cast the adult characters very carefully
It managed the incredibly difficult task of casting a large number of child actors who were talented and had the right group chemistry. Now the sequel has the unenviable task of finding adults to follow in the footsteps of the kids.
It part one's most famous face is probably Finn Wolfhard, who plays the foul-mouthed Richie Tozier, and -- in a perfect bit of synergy between two Stephen King-flavored 1980s stories -- sensitive Mike Wheeler in Stranger Things. Genre fans will also recognise Jaeden Lieberher, who plays Bill Denbrough, as the gifted boy from Midnight Special. Everyone else, including Sophia Lillis, who makes a big impression as tomboy Beverly Marsh, is a relative unknown. Even Pennywise himself, Bill Skarsgård, isn't someone you'd instantly recognise, unless you happened to be a huge Helmock Grove fan and were able to see past all his clown make-up. Despite that, the entire cast totally nails it.
Skarsgård will be back for Chapter Two -- Pennywise doesn't age, after all -- and according to a recent Entertainment Weekly report, there will still be significant flashbacks with the kid actors, which will be filmed especially for the sequel and will be an important part of its story.
However, at least some of the action will shift 27 years ahead to the year 2016, when the Losers Club kids will be around 40 years old. This will require a whole new set of actors. In an interview with MTV, the kids were asked who'd they want to see play their characters as adults. The best one: Lillis suggested Jessica Chastain to play Bev, which makes sense not only because the two actors share a hair colour, but also because Chastain was in Muschietti's breakout movie, Mama.
It would be exciting to see big stars act as an ensemble in a horror movie (when's the last time that happened... Interview With the Vampire?), but the alternative is also intriguing. As EW noted, the film might go the completely opposite direction and cast unknown actors. One of the joys of It part one is that the kids seem so believably, awkwardly real, and casting unknowns (especially if they look a lot like their younger counterparts) could go a long way toward preserving that crucial element. Of course, that presents a unique challenge for this film: should the filmmakers cast adult actors who physically resemble the kid actors, or should they cast based on the chemistry between the adult actors? The latter seems to make more sense, especially since so much time will have passed for the characters, of course they will look different than they once did.
The TV miniseries might actually be a good guide here. It had some interesting combinations that relied more on acting talent than physical resemblance: Emily Perkins (who'd later star in as an angsty werewolf in Ginger Snaps) and Annette O'Toole (Martha Kent on Smallville) don't look a think alike; ditto for a teenaged Seth Green and Night Court star Harry Anderson.
Properly update the 2016 storyline
It took some creative liberties with King's novel. The most obvious is moving the setting from the 1950s to the 1980s, which means that Chapter Two will be a contemporary story. Horror fans will remember that the It TV miniseries kept closer to King's timeline (shifting the "adult" part of the story just a few years, so that it would be 1990 when it aired on ABC that same year), but made some changes when it came to the lives and careers of the grown-up Losers Club. In the book, for instance, Richie grows up to be a radio DJ; in the TV movie, he's a stand-up comedian who slays on late-night talk shows, but suffers at the hands of a shady manager. It was a change that made a lot of sense for the character -- and fit perfectly with the running theme that all the kids grew up to be incredibly successful and yet incredibly unhappy.
The next movie will have to jump to 2016, which means specific changes will have to happen. Like the selection of its adult cast, those changes should be made carefully and smartly.
It part two is currently being scripted by Gary Dauberman, who co-wrote part one as well as both Annabelle movies. Needless to say, there's plenty of ambient awfulness already built into having your story set in 2016. The first film does a wonderful job peppering its mise-en-scene with fun pop culture references; the sequel could do the same with politics and current events.
Beyond that, Chapter Two should take a cue from the miniseries and give the adult Losers updated sources of misery. Instead of making hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak a limousine driver, stick him in a far more depressingly modern job: toiling for Uber. Of course that might be obvious, but there still will need to be some sort of update there. Tied into that is that, as with any updated version of an older story, the world of technology will need to have some kind of presence. The characters will have cell phones, and Google, and Instagram accounts -- will Pennywise's reality-bending powers have enough reach to run amok online? Will the Losers Club have made themselves a Facebook page to post carefully curated to show only success photos to each other?
Another thing from the book that doesn't ring as true is Beverly's future. After Lillis' tough, brave performance as Beverly, battling both Pennywise and her abusive father, it's hard to believe that she would end up in a relationship with a cruel jerk. If that part of the story remains, the script will need to really emphasise that the Losers Club kids leave town for fabulous/horrible lives and don't remember much of anything that happened to them in the cursed town of Derry. The end of part one certainly teases that their memories are already beginning to fade. The only Loser who should absolutely keep to his King-prescribed fate is Bill, who of course becomes a best-selling horror novelist. That's a wink to the author that's too fun to excise.
Beyond their careers and relationships, the adult characters should show their scars in different ways. In that same Entertainment Weekly piece, Muschietti revealed that he envisioned a significant story change for Mike Hanlon, the only African American kid in the movie. In the first It, Mike is haunted by the memory of his parents dying in a fire, and Pennywise's pranks only make that horror worse. As the story dictates, Mike is the only Losers Club kid who's still living in Derry as an adult, and he's the only one who really remembers Pennywise. But rather than simply being the guy who summons everyone home when the killer clown lurches out of the sewer in 2016, he'll have a lot more to offer in this version. His psychic wounds have left him "a junkie... a wreck," but his drug-induced spirit quests (shades of True Detective season one, perhaps?) -- coupled with the fact that he's the town librarian -- mean he'll have some crucial Pennywise-fighting knowledge ready to deploy when the Losers Club reunites.
Better balance character development and real big scares
As the end credits rolled at our screening of It, my friend turned to me and said, "That was really good... but it wasn't as scary as I thought it would be." That's another point that came up in several reviews of the film -- yeah, it's excellent, suspenseful, and eerie, but it's not exactly making audiences shriek in sheer terror. That's not to take away from Skarsgård's performance or Muschietti's direction; it's just that the movie leans so heavily into its coming-of-age themes -- which it conveys so wonderfully -- that sometimes the pure horror of the story is overshadowed by them.
On the other hand, another oft-cited criticism of the It feature film is that even with its lengthy running time, there are simply too many preteen characters to get to know all of them with any depth. The sequel will hopefully offer a chance to correct this by showing us more of their lives and personalities, with flashbacks further fleshing out moments in the teenage years that we didn't get to see in part one. For instance, Richie's constant jokes are a high point of the film, but we never really get to see where that sense of humour comes from, or any hint of what his home life is like. If Muschietti's designs for Mike, who's one of the more thinly-drawn kids in part one, are any indication, that's going to be a solid step forward for part two. It will also need to vividly explore how these now-grown heroes fare once they return to Derry, a place where seemingly all adults (cops, parents, grandparents, random neighbours who witness children getting sucked into storm drains) cope with the horrors of Pennywise by completely ignoring his existence. No doubt it will be a very uneasy welcome.
That's one way the sequel can ratchet up the tension while also serving the characters. Another way it can do this is by delving deeper into the larger Pennywise mythology, which seems like something Muschietti is aiming to do. It's hinted at in the first movie, but in the book it's made very clear that Pennywise isn't just an evil dancing clown. He's an evil, shape-shifting creature from another dimension. The second film, Muschietti told Yahoo Movies, will afford plenty of room to dig into the "transdimensional stuff" that's in King's book -- things he didn't do more than touch on in the first film because he wanted to keep it grounded in the lives of the kids.
Another place ripe for scares and inclusion in the sequel is what Muschietti called "a world that would basically suck up half of our budget," which will probably be necessary in part two if the characters are going to enact the demon-busting "Ritual of Chüd." To give the scene the proper weight onscreen, that works will need to be built.
It's possible that part two will get a bigger budget, based on the success of part one, to fully carry out the creation of that mystical world, but one of the best things about part one was how it used both practical and CG effects. Hopefully, that will still be the case in the next film, with perhaps a little more CG deployed for environmental enhancements.
But even more important than piling more scary moments into the film will be building on the existential dread that's just begun to infect the kids when they realise something is very, very wrong in Derry. As mentioned above. returning to the town is ripe with ways to do that. The goal should be to make a second film that even further subverts the idea of the idyllic small town than the first film did.
Part one -- with its sweet relationships and coming-of-age lessons -- could end up feeling more like a slow burn, a set-up for a far more vicious and trippy second half. Three decades on, the characters may not fear the same things they did as children, but they will certainly still fear Pennywise and his mind-warping powers. (Famously, the most fragile Loser takes his own life rather than daring to face It again.) Further exploring Pennywise's origins and intentions in part two will only make part one more frightening, with the benefit of more context, and could go a long way toward making the It series one of the scariest of all time in the end.
It is now playing in theatres everywhere.