The Ritual is a survival horror film based off the 2011 novel of the same name from Adam Nevill and is directed by David Bruckner. The film follows four friends, Luke, Phil, Hutch, and Dom who whilst on a hiking trip through the Swedish wilderness decide to take a shortcut, as they delve deeper into the forest they soon discover they might not be alone. I didn’t expect a whole lot from The Ritual, the survival horror genre has been done countless times and there isn’t really much room for the sub-genre to grow. Despite the fact that this movie does touch on some familiar tropes of the genre, the story does what it can in formulating enough twists and turns to create a largely unpredictable end product that is thoroughly enjoyable. Once I pushed through the opening 20-or-so minutes I was completely hooked in as the suspense builds and builds with each passing moment, the horror is very well delivered and definitely effective, and I actually enjoyed spending time with this group of characters. I don’t feel like this movie is going to get a lot of attention initially but I hope it does form some sort of cult following with time, especially due to one factor I will get into in the spoiler section.
I want to start off with the story itself because the way this thing progresses at an eerily slow pace puts you on edge and had me holding my breath for much of the movie. It starts off in a way that doesn’t hold many surprises, the characters get introduced and before you know it shit starts to get weird, but not in a confusing way. Throughout the second act and going into the third act it throws a couple of curveballs and goes to some places I never thought it would but am thankful that it did. The entire time you feel this looming presence, you don’t know what it is or even if it is but the idea of something lurking sets a very dreary tone that is emphasised with some quite horrifying imagery. I loved Bruckner’s approach to horror here, gone are the jump-scares, and in is this atmospheric approach to horror which is 10x more effective than shit jumping out at the screen. And it’s not just the physical horror which is effective, there is a psychological element of the film I won’t go into here but it delves into fears and messing with the mind in a very intriguing and unique way.
I’ll get my gripes out of the way here because although I do love the movie there are issues, most of which are pretty minor. Once the plot does hook you in, it remains suspenseful for the majority of the runtime right up til the end. But there are a couple of sequences that go for a minute to two too long and it starts to feel like you and the characters have some time to breath. Now it doesn’t last long before the looming threat is felt again but there are a couple of bits that momentarily dip in suspense. There are also 2 moments I can think of that in the context of what is going on at the time feel a little too silly and tonally out of place. There is some subtle comedy in the banter between the characters but these two moments, one of which involves a punch did get me to laugh but in a “that’s a bit dumb” sort of way. Oh! And I need to mention this, theres one point in the movie where the camera pans over the forest in a manner that looks as though it’s going to reveal or tease something. But then it pans up into the sky, fades to a blinding white screen, then cuts to the next scene. I don’t understand why this happens as it is jarring as fuck, but it is one moment and it doesn’t matter too much but it is random enough to get a mention.
I need to talk about the cast because I expected little from the cast as besides Rafe Spall I hadn’t heard of any of the other names, but they all surprised me at how effective they were. The main 4 actors; Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, and Sam Troughton bought their A-game and were actually really entertaining and sold the terrifying nature of their situation nicely. I mean, there’s no Oscar-level performances in here (and I didn’t expect any) but they all shared this chemistry that allowed me to buy into the fact that yeah, these guys do feel like friends who’ve known each-other for a while. The banter between them and the way they work through certain situations is thoroughly entertaining to watch and only increases my engagement in the story and characters. The decisions the individual characters make for the most part make sense according to their established personalities which indicates good writing.
So in the end, The Ritual surprised me in the way it presents its characters and how it delivers horror in a way that kept up the suspense right to the end without creating boring moment. There is a lot to love about this film as despite sitting within a well-explored genre it does its best to change things up and go in directions that hold a few surprises. The film is streaming on Netflix now so if you are a fan of the survival horror genre then I say you should definitely check this one out.
SPOILERS BELOW FOR THE RITUAL
So I need to talk about quite possibly the best thing about this movie and why this movie deserves to have a large following at some point in time; the monster. For pretty much the entire movie this monster which has been lurking around the characters had been hidden, living in the shadows and off camera so naturally I didn’t think they’d ever reveal what the monster looks like. But late in the film in the final moments the monster is revealed in all its glory and it is fucking magnificent. As far as original monster designs go I’d say this is up there as one of the top 3 monsters in horror films ever because when it shows up I was in awe at the beautifully terrifying complexity of its design. Not only is it incredible in its design but it has an intriguing implied backstory and place in history that makes me want to learn more and more about it.
Its design is so complex that I don’t even know where I’d start in describing it… It has a weird wooden and bony texture to its body, a giraffe or horse-like body, giant fuckoff antlers, and then up where it has a human-ish face with glowing eyes and there are arms that are coming from somewhere and it almost looks like a mess of body parts. My description is horrible and does the monster no justice but if you can do a better job ad describing it be my guest. What we learn is that the monster has its roots in Norse mythology and is some sort of ancient God. It resides in the woods, takes sacrifices from its followers who pray to it, and traps its victims by having them hallucinate some of their greatest fears. There is a tonne of depth to this creature, it deserves a tonne of attention and I really want to see more of it featured in the future… or at least more similarly complex creatures.