Pennywise is back and more vicious than ever before in IT Chapter Two, director Andy Muschietti‘s followup to his record-smashing 2017 adaptation of Stephen King‘s IT. Set up 27 years after the events of the first film, Chapter Two picks up with the adult Losers club — James McAvoy‘s Bill Denbrough, Jessica Chastain‘s Beverly Marsh, Bill Hader‘s Richie Tozier, Jay Ryan‘s Ben Hanscom, James Ransone‘s Eddie Kaspbrak, Isaiah Mustafah‘s Mike Hanlon and Andy Bean‘s Stanley Uris — when the child-eating creature known as It returns from slumber with a rather literal vengeance.
Adapting King’s sprawling horror classic was never going to be an easy task, but the second half, in particular, has always been a tricky beast. Where the childhood adventures of the Losers club offered a tight coming-of-age narrative to tackle in the first film, the epic finale of their adult journey includes mind-bending rituals, astral journeys into cosmic voids, and a giant god-like turtle that threw up the known world in a fit of indigestion. It’s almost too much to fully wrap your head around when you read the book, and certainly not the kind of storytelling that easily translates to the screen.
Which means that when it came time to figure out how to reinvent King’s cosmic mythology for IT Chapter Two, the filmmakers had to find a way to make impossible ideas cinematic. And that meant a lot of changes to the source material. Muschietti explained,
“I was trying to find a function, dramatically, for the Ritual of Chüd. That’s how I reintroduced it in the story. The Ritual of Chüd is the last resource, something that exists in mythology.”
In King’s novel, the Ritual of Chüd involves two parties metaphorically/spiritually biting down on each other’s tongues and telling jokes until one party, the losing party, laughs. It’s a psychic battle of wits, waged with the power of belief in the vast expanse of the Macroverse. In the book, it happens twice. First, Bill enacts the ritual as a child, when he communes with the Turtle god Maturin while floating through the Macroverse. Stick with me here.
Maturin is sort-of an anti-Pennywise; a more-or-less benevolent Lovecraftian god-creature, who accidentally created our universe by throwing up. He’s also a power player in King’s Dark Tower series but we do not have time for all that here. While Maturin usually keeps out of human affairs, he occasionally nudges people in the right direction, as he does with young Bill in King’s novel, pushing the boy towards the Ritual of Chüd and his battle against It.
In the movies, things are quite different. The Ritual of Chüd is never mentioned in the first film (though Muschietti noted he wanted too, but could never find the right spot for it) and the ritual doesn’t play a part in the Losers’ battle against Pennywise, though there a few easter egg references to the Turtle throughout the film. (Most notably when the kids go for a swim in the quarry.) In IT Chapter Two, however, The Ritual of Chüd becomes a key anchor to the film’s structure, with some massive revisions from the ritual in the book.
As the only Loser who stays in Derry, Mike bears the memory of Pennywise alone and spend his years researching a way to kill him, which leads him to a Native tribe just outside of Derry (and thus, just outside of Its reach,) who teach him about the ritual. Mike passes his knowledge on to Bill when he drugs him with the Maturin root (a nice Easter egg for book fans) and shows him the visions of the ritual, which involves hunting down totems of their forgotten memories and sacrificing them in a ritual to trap It in an ancient receptacle.
Of course, what the Losers quickly learn is that the ritual doesn’t work at all. Mike hid a key bit of information from them — the last people who tried it were all slaughtered by It. As Muschietti explains, Mike saw it as a way of unifying their belief.
“It doesn’t really work. But he knows that the only way to defeat Pennywise is using the power of unified belief and this is the McGuffin that he decides to use.”