IT Chapter Two From the Perspective of a Gay Horror Fan
SPOILERS FOR IT CHAPTER TWO
Being a gay horror fan can be a tumultuous situation. For every fun or classic entry in the genre there are about ten others that disregard the gay experience with reckless abandon. Protagonists throwing around that F word like it’s going out of style, tons of gay panic, and just an overall disregard for any character who isn’t straight. Unfortunately gay characters rarely rise above being the butt of constant jokes or are just 'there to be different.' It's a nice change of pace when a character's sexuality is actually a part of character development and catharsis, and not just a footnote in the film's story. So imagine my surprise during IT Chapter Two when it dawned on me that hey, not just a horror movie, but a big budget, mainstream one, might just get it right.
Growing up in a small town, especially when you have a secret, can be torturous, easily feeling like Derry, Maine. Seemingly idyllic, but with an undercurrent of misunderstanding or straight up hatred or evil. Every day is another opportunity to be exposed and the threat is constant. Whether it's trying to make friends, hanging out with current ones, or dealing with the stress of difference, that's what IT, both chapters, displays so brilliantly.
I’ve seen quite a few people, mostly straight, take issue with the opening scene of Chapter Two which involves a violent hate crime against a gay couple. Though expanded upon in the original novel, this crime and the brutal murder that follows at the hands of Pennywise the Dancing Clown are there not for shock value, but an actual purpose. IT has permeated the entire town of Derry with an influence of evil and this is just one way of showing that. Hate crimes happen every day in this country, even if they don’t make the national news and this is just an example of that terrible fact. The crime itself is unbelievably brutal and does a lot to instill the hatred of Derry into the audience. No punches are pulled and it’s a ‘hand over your mouth’ type of sequence for the viewer. At first I was shocked, but then pleased that the filmmakers would include such a scene. Taken on its own, the sequence can be a tough pill to swallow, but in greater context, and combined with the rest of the film it works.
Was I personally offended, like so many others, by this scene? No, I wasn’t. I was disheartened because you hear about these things happening all the time, though luckily they don’t involve a possibly extraterrestrial embodiment of pure evil. The performances in this scene also lent an air of believability. I’ve met queer/gay couples like this, so open with their sexuality in the face of danger, and I’ve admired them from afar, even if I’d check my surroundings before even holding my fiance’s hand.
For years there has been the belief amongst fans of King’s novel that Richie Tozier and Eddie Kaspbrak had a relationship that was more than simple childhood friendship. With IT Chapter Two, the filmmakers decided to make that subtext into literal text and it’s another choice that improves the experience from my perspective. Seeing cries of “Homosexuality is not a plot twist” baffled me to no end. That take discounts the terrific character work of both actors and the care that went into the entire process. Of course it could come across as a plot twist if you watch the film with blinders on and earplugs in, but for those that actually watched the picture, Richie’s sexuality is plain as day. Even small details like the subtle flirting taking place while Eddie and Richie share the hammock as children, a scene I still can’t get out of my head, make it painfully clear. They had something going on; that all too familiar experimentation of any gay man’s youth, it can be fleeting or prolonged but it sticks with you. I doubt I’ll forget about that indelible image for a long time.
Another part that hit particularly close to home is the flashback to young Richie playing Street Fighter at the local movie theater. Having just broken off his friendship with the rest of the Losers, Richie, played here by Finn Wolfhard, is trying his damndest to make new friends, even offering to pay for another round of the game. Of course this is where the other teen blows the situation way out of proportion, as teens usually do, instantly calling into question Richie’s sexuality. It’s a heartbreaking display and one that I dealt with in a similar fashion when I was growing up. Just swap out Street Fighter for Mortal Kombat 2, and I was Richie; same situation, same secret, same fear.
Bill Hader has been rightfully praised for his performance as certified loud mouth Richie Tozier, the jokester of the young Loser’s Club and stand-up comedian in his adult life. Hader brings a humanity to a role that, as we’ve all seen in the original TV miniseries, could easily be played hollow and just for bad jokes. Maybe his decision to not read the source novel informed this, but it’s a virtuoso performance that his supporters and fans, myself included, have always known he had in him. Getting less fanfare however is James Ransone’s turn as the older Eddie. Here is a performance of internal struggle, a man who has been badgered by almost everyone, outside of his childhood friends, his entire life. Once the adult Losers start to regain their memories of what happened that fateful summer in Derry, the chemistry between Richie and Eddie becomes a highlight of the experience. They’re right back to where they started, supporting each other whenever possible, leading up to a heartbreaking finale.
Seeing as how it’s been about 20 years since I’ve read the book, I had totally forgotten the fate that befalls Eddie. Witnessing his end and Richie’s reaction, I was a wreck. No this wasn’t a ‘plot twist’, but the culmination of impressive character work. IT Chapter Two is that rare blockbuster that takes chances, chances that clearly don’t play to the entire audience. I was on this film’s level from the first scene, having come to realize that the previous 2017 movie is one of the best horror films of the last decade.
As evidenced by the enormous backlash Chapter Two has received, it’s clear that horror audiences haven’t exactly gotten in tune with the evolution of the genre. That’s a shame, because their favorites are indeed a relic of the past, and they just refuse to accept that.