IT: Chapter Two isn’t about clowns. Yep. Bear with us.
Coming of age stories hold a soft spot in many adult cinema-goers’ hearts. Movies about growing up are hard to make, but when done right, they strike a chord.
From Booksmart to Sixteen Candles, from La Haine to This Is England, coming of age stories span and transcend tone, nationality, language and genre.
Okay so what’s that got to do with IT? Because IT isn’t really about evil monsters who hide behind the supposedly-funny-but-actually-creepy visage of a clown. The first IT movie is a coming of age story.
Of course, IT, and the sequel IT: Chapter Two, are horror movies. But like many other horror movies, the thing that haunts the characters isn’t necessarily the monster lurking in the closet or under the bed.
In horror movies like Get Out and arguably, The Shining, moviegoers are expected, and want, to parse the film for its subtext, for its larger commentary on society, individuality, humanity, racism, madness and family etc.
But in a movie like IT, you can easily just point at the absolutely terrifying face of Pennywise and chalk up your feelings to jump-scares and creepy circus music.
What makes IT so scary for the kids at the centre of the story, and therefore for us, is how they come face to face with their deepest fears.
It’s their respective parents who drive the kids’ inner turmoil. In the case of Beverly and Eddie, their parents drive their greatest fear in a more obvious way.
For Beverly, when she is confronted with Pennywise, he shifts into the shape of her father – a man who should protect her and instead abuses her.
Eddie’s mother is a hypochondriac and it’s easy to armchair-psychologist diagnose her as having Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy, now known as fabricated or induced illness.
She is overprotective to the point of instilling him with a deep paranoia about anything germ or illness related, even when it stops him leading a normal, healthy life.
Billy’s father, though bereft by the loss of his other son, offers Billy no support, no way for him to process his grief and he is left afraid of the very memory of his brother.
Mike’s grandfather, clearly acting out of a desire to protect his grandson from the hate that caused his parents’ death, isolates him from the outside world, so that Mike can’t develop as a young man with intimate connections to friends.
Stanley’s father has such high expectations of his son, who is approaching his Bar Mitzvah, that Stanley is left unsupported and demeaned.
Though we see nothing of Richie’s family, IT director Andy Muschietti said: “We don’t know much about Richie’s personality, because he’s the big mouth of the group. But we suppose he’s also neglected at home, and he’s the clown of the band because he needs attention.”
Likewise, we know little about Ben’s family, but any child who is allowed to hang that many true-crime related articles, photos, and paraphernalia in his room clearly isn’t getting a ton of parental attention.
Each kid had to overcome their greatest fear, most of which were directly created by the impact of their parents on their lives to defeat Pennywise in the first IT movie.
IT: Chapter Two has a huge hurdle to overcome, then. If Pennywise taps into your greatest fear, how will it speak to the now grown-up Losers Club? Especially when their fears and the hurdles they face aren’t tied into boogeymen – influenced by their parents or not.
The sequel is not a coming of age story. Instead, it seems to be a story about dealing with repressed trauma, confronting it head-on. IT: Chapter Two has already, to an arguable degree of success, visualised the concept of confronting trauma in the mirror-hall scene you can watch in the trailer.
Speaking to EW, James McAvoy said: “We were missing a vital story beat for Bill where he dealt with his guilt that he caused his brother’s death. I said to Andy, ‘What can we do?’…and literally in 50 minutes, he invented a whole new sequence. It was never in the script, and it isn’t in the book. It’s brilliant.”
This theme is, of course, worth exploring in the sequel. But it will likely be less terrifying – on the face of it – than a walking, diseased corpse.
IT: Chapter Two is out in cinemas on September 6.