The only thing scarier than Pennywise the clown is making Pennywise the clown scary again. That was the massive task Andy and Barbara Muschietti faced with It Chapter Two.
The director and producer siblings hit a grand slam with 2017's part one, but it was so successful they had to jump right back into the world almost immediately. And after the first instalment, they’d only adapted about a quarter of what Stephen King had originally written in 1986.
“We flirted with making two more films,” producer Barbara Muschietti told Gizmodo in Los Angeles last week. “Then it was decided that we would only make one film but clearly there was a lot of material that Andy and our writers had to adapt.”
Those 900 or so remaining pages tell the story of what the kids from the first movie, the Losers’ Club, are like when they grow up and how they come back to their hometown of Derry, Maine to kill the evil force they call “It.”
As Andy Muschietti and his writer Gary Dauberman dove into that dense story, the first thing they realised was 900 pages of a book didn’t mean 900 pages of a screenplay.
“There’s a lot of It that’s a lot of writing,” director Andy Muschietti told Gizmodo. “The challenge was to wrap this huge work and translate it into film language. So the story is leaner. It’s tighter. We turn the screws of tension to keep the audience on the edge of their seat all the time. And everything is more consequential. In the book, it’s just looser.”
That mantra to keep things more compact was so strict, it meant that the Muschiettis even had to go against the wishes of King himself.
“He gave us a little list of things that he would like to see in the movie,” Andy Muschietti explained. “But he is very gentle. He said like, ‘Please take this. It is what it is. There are no strings attached.’ It was more an affectionate thing with what he remembers of his own work.”
One thing on the list that was added, per King’s wishes, was the Paul Bunyan scene, where a huge statue of Bunyan chases young Richie. However, King also wanted to see the Standpipe rolling down the hill during the destruction of Derry from the end of the book, but the pair had to decline.
“We didn’t go, at all, in that direction because I wanted to keep the ending more intimate and more about the emotions of the humans of this group,” Muschietti added. “So we had to pass on that.”
In keeping the film more about the emotions, there was also the decision to strongly suggest that one of the main characters is gay, which is just barely hinted at in the book, if at all.
“That came from the exploration of fear of these characters in the adult years,” Andy Muscheitti said. “As I was exploring with [Dauberman] this palate of different fears that these adult characters can have, certainly the fear of being exposed, someone that has been hiding a sexual identity, is something that a lot of people can relate to.”
Bringing in issues of repressed sexuality is one of several ways the Muscheittis attempted to raise the stakes in It Chapter Two. That was necessitated by the fact that the first film was about kids being threatened, but this one is about capable adults, which simply isn’t as relatable or scary.
“We went in knowing that we would have to raise the stakes precisely because of that,” Barbara Muscheitti said. “It’s harder to empathise with an adult. When a child is in peril immediately you’re gonna be protective. We’re gonna feel for the situation. When it’s an adult, it depends on the adult. So we had to make sure that two prongs, one, our adults were absolutely people we could empathise with as we did with the kids. And then, on the other hand, that the stakes were higher.”
Andy Muscheitti says those stakes come down to one simple thing: making the film about growing up.
“It is about the end of childhood,” he said. “That’s why, in this story, adulthood is almost like a villain. Adulthood is the antagonist of childhood because it kills childhood. Everything that is great about childhood, all the treasures like imagination and the power of believing in things that don’t exist just go away.”
But, for the adult Losers to ultimately defeat It, that’s exactly what they’ll need—childish belief and imagination. That’s why it plays a huge part in sculpting how they are portrayed in the film.
“There’s a survival mechanism, an unconscious need to remain children,” Andy Muscheitti said. “Because they know deep inside, even though it’s uncertain what happened to It in the end when they beat him up, there’s an impending return of It. And that is keeping them children. Inside because they will need each other. They will need to access that. The power of belief.”
It Chapter Two is in Australian theatres now.