Be aware there are spoilers for IT (2017), the 1990 miniseries, and Stephen King’s novel.
They actually went and pulled it off. Director Andy Muschietti and his creative team managed to take one of Stephen King‘s most beloved and challenging novels — his epic, sprawling opus IT — split it in half, and adapt it into a film that’s not just terrifying, but an earnest, touching tale of coming-of-age friendship, all in a single feature-length film. And to pull it off, they had to stick the landing with an ending that could not only satisfy the arc of the first film, but tease the sequel.
Of course, New Line hasn’t officially announced the sequel yet, but Gary Dauberman was just recruited to return for scriptwriting, and between Muschietti’s candid interviews and the film’s final title tag, which reads “IT: Chapter One”, the sequel has got to be one of the most unofficially official movies ever. So let’s take a look at the ending of IT, what it means for the Losers, and what it’s teasing for the second half to come.
Let’s start with It itself, aka Pennywise the Dancing Clown. What is It? The film doesn’t give us a clear cut answer on the nature of the evil (seems they’re saving that for the sequel), but it lays enough hints to satisfy book fans and casual moviegoers alike. In short, It is an ancient creature, older than our universe, who feasts on the flesh of humans because our fears are easy to manifest and they make us more delicious. According to It, when it feasted on scared humans, “all the chemicals of fear flooded the body and salted the meat”. This is why he prefers to feast on children — their fears are simple, pure, and powerful compared to the comlplex fears of adults. Basically, children are delicious.
That hunger for tasty, tasty, beautiful fear is pretty much the sole reason It returns to Derry, Maine every 27 years to torment and feed on the townsfolk before retreating into a slumber. That’s where we pick up with our Losers in the final act of IT. Terrified by their near-death encounter with Pennywise on Niebolt Street, the Losers disband and go their separate ways for the rest of the summer despite protests from Bill and Beverly. But then Pennywise abducts Beverly, the heart of the Losers Club and the glue that holds them together, and in doing so, reunites them once more to face off against the evil lurking in the Derry sewers.
Equipped with little more than their faith, friendship, and Mike Hanlon’s cattle gun, the Losers venture into the house at 29 Niebolt Street again, this time determined to take down Pennywise for good. But when they get there, they run into a spot of unexpected trouble in the form of Henry Bowers, fresh off of murdering his father, driven mad(der) by Pennywise and put on a mission to “kill them all.” When all the Losers but Mike have climbed down into the well, Henry makes his move, nearly putting a cattle bolt through Mike’s head, but Mike gets the upper-hand and charges Henry, sending him flying violently down to the bottom of the well.
Henry’s fall is brutal, smacking up against the walls with bone-shattering velocity and it’s hard to imagine he could survive that fall, but we may well see the young bully again in Chapter Two (if that ends up being the title). In the books, Henry Bowers still has a somewhat significant role to play. After following the Losers into the sewers, he survives an attack by Pennywise (in the guise of Frankenstein’s monster), washes out of the sewers, and takes the fall for the recent string of murders. He returns 27 years later, once again under the influence of Pennywise and attacks the adult Losers, putting Mike in the hospital and nearly killing Eddie. We’ll have to wait for the sequel to see if there’s more in store for the psychotic local bully, if another character will take his place, or if that subplot will be dropped entirely.
Back in the sewers, Beverly wakes up and finds herself in Pennywise’s cistern, surrounded by the bodies of floating dead children. Pennywise puts on a little dancing clown show for her, but when she moves to escape, he snatches her up and tries to scare her. Just one problem — Beverly just faced down her worst fear, her abusive father, and she’s not scared anymore. “You will be,” Pennywise warns as he unhinges his mouth and shows her the deadlights — his true home, which exists outside our universe, and which is said to make humans go insane upon sight — King’s nod to Lovecraftian horror. Beverly doesn’t go insane, but her eyes glaze over and she goes catatonic and floats up into the air, lifeless.
When the rest of the Losers make their way into the sewers, things get hectic in a hurry as Pennywise attempts to lure the children apart. Stan is led away from his friends and comes face-to-face with his greatest fear. When the other Losers find him, the creepy flute lady has her mouth wrapped around his face, devouring him. His friends band together to rescue him, but Stanley is visibly disturbed and his faith in his friends is shaken. He thinks they left him alone to die. This could be the seed of trauma from which he never recovers since, as you may well know, Stan the Man’s mental health doesn’t hold up so well when his memories of Pennywise come rushing back.
While the friends are tending to Stanley, Pennywise lures Bill into his cistern in the guise of Georgie. The brothers have a heartfelt conversation before Bill finally accepts that Georgie is dead and puts a cattle bolt through the forehead of the monster taking the shape of his little brother. The young boy’s inert body begins to wriggle and spasm, transforming into Pennywise. After a brief skirmish, Pennywise grabs Bill and gives the other Losers the option to run away. “You will all grow and live happy lives until old age drags you back to the weeds,” he promises, but Richie steps up to the plate in a big way and affirms what Beverly said all along; that they are stronger together, as a team, and that the “bonding of seven extraordinarily imaginative minds” poses an actual threat to It. We see this sentiment affirmed earlier in the film when the Losers stand their ground against Henry Bowers and his team of bullies in the rock war. It’s the first time all seven of them are united and the first time we see them walk away from Bowers triumphant.
As the kids attack in tandem, It flips from glamour to glamour, the woman from the painting (her official name is Judith), Mike’s burning parents — even the Mummy makes a cameo, attacking Ben, which is a fun wink to the Universal Monsters that plague the Losers in King’s novel. One by one they face their worst fears, Beverly faces her father, Eddie gets a face-full of infection straight from the Leper’s mouth, but they fight on, striking them down, striking It down, and demonstrating the double-edged sword of belief. If they believe in It, in their fears, they can also believe in themselves, believe they are stronger than It, and that is how they defeat It. That’s why Bill is able to wound It with Mike’s cattle gun even though the gun is not loaded (or why Eddie is able to conjure battery acid from his inhaler in the miniseries).
Finally, Pennywise is beaten into submission. He scurries away, utters the word “fear,” and partially disintegrates before falling into the void. It’s a powerful defeat of a powerful monster, and it’s satisfaction enough were IT to remain a single film. But as we walk away from the Losers in 1989, only half of the story is told and film’s final moments set the stage for the next chapter.
So now we arrive at the book’s infamous moment, the ritual of chüd, aka the preteen sewer orgy during which Beverly has sex with all the Losers, binding them together and cementing their transition into adulthood. Obviously, the movie does not include any such scene because that’s unfilmable. Instead, the kids make a blood oath (though there’s a clever nod to the source material when the camera draws back to reveal Eddie’s cast, which has the word “lover” scrawled in red over the word “losers”.) Beverly reveals that when she was in the deadlights, she saw them reunited in the cistern once again when they’re their parents’ age, hinting at the battle to come when Pennywise returns 27 years later to face down the adult Losers. Bill slices their palms with a shard of glass and they all swear to return and kill It for good if It ever returns. It’s a sweet moment in the context of the film, but also a sad one in the context of the bigger story because this is the last time the Losers will all be together (assuming he sequel follows the books), and the order in which they leave is a nod to things to come. Stan first, then Eddie, then the rest of the gang.
After they walk away, Bill and Beverly share a moment, but she is headed off to Portland to live with her aunt. Once the Losers are separated, and once Pennywise’s strange magic retreats from the world for his hibernation, they begin to forget. They forget their horrors in the sewers, they forget the bond they share, they forget it all and they go on with their separate lives for nearly three decades until Pennywise returns, eager to feed on their flesh and feast on their fears, and summons them back to Derry. For the rest, we’ll have to wait until Chapter Two.