You’ve heard this story a thousand times before A group of guys……or girls…… or maybe guys & girls, go on a trip and decide to take a shortcut to get to their destination quicker. Of course, this detour only leads to death and horror for our characters who have seriously never watched a horror movie before. It’s the oldest trick in the book. A million different horror movies come to mind when I think about this scenario. With that out of the way, it pleases me to say that while The Ritual (which is currently streaming on Netflix) starts off as a horror cliche, it quickly veers into some really new and terrifying territory with a great and convincing cast, horror galore, and a beyond fucked up looking creature that lives in the forest that these unfortunate characters are taking their detour through.
Director David Bruckner (his previous work was writing/directing segments for horror anthologies The Signal, V/H/S & Southbound) has crafted a film that works on multiple levels of fear. Based on the novel by Adam Nevill, the story begins with Luke (Rafe Spall), Phil (Arsher Ali), Hutch (Robert James-Collier), Dom (Sam Troughton) and Robert (Paul Reid) out at a pub for some drinks. As the night continues, Luke decides to make a quick stop at a liquor store for more alcohol, but as luck would have it, the store is being robbed. This quick stop proves to be a fatal mistake.
Fast forward six months later. The guys have traveled to Sweden for a hiking trip to honor and bid farewell to their friend, who they lost in the robbery. This trip could be a great way for the guys to reunite, but tension between the group can already be seen. Eyes are on Luke, who they believe didn’t try to actively save their friend that fateful night six months ago. As the weather continues to worsen on their hike to the cabin they’ve reserved, Dom twists his ankle. Hutch devises a plan to take a detour through the forest instead of the mountains they had originally planned to go through. Obviously, this turns out to be a shit idea. Someone, or some thing, is waiting for them.
The safety net comes off fairly early on, with the robbery scene providing grounded and real horror before the supernatural events unfold. As the group slowly begins to unravel on their detour, becoming more and more under the spell of whatever inhabits this forest they’re in, you can’t help but be engulfed in the tension as it ratchets up. The atmosphere always dark and unsettling, with rarely a moment of levity. The entire cast does a remarkable job of making everything feel real. Their reactions to what is happening around them feel natural and help the audience relate to them and their plight.
Although the actors play their roles great, the standout in this film, by a long shot, is the creature. I won’t spoil it, but man it’s something you’ve never seen before. It plays to the atmosphere, with the viewer only catching glimpses of it here and there throughout the film. When it finally makes its appearance, I couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing. It’s an amalgamation of human and beast and god knows what, that was completely unnerving. Andy Serkis (Motion Capture God for Lord of the Rings’ Gollum, Star Wars’ Supreme Leader Snoke, and Planet of the Apes’ Caesar) was an executive producer on The Ritual, and I can only assume he had some hand in the creature and its movements. The film is pretty great on its own, but I felt the monster elevates it to a whole new level.
The Ritual was an (un)pleasant surprise for my wife and I. The ending leaves a few unanswered questions that will have you scratching your head when the credits roll. Despite its unanswered questions and horror cliches, the film as a whole adds up to a frightening journey absolutely worth taking. Even if you’re a hardened horror movie veteran who has seen countless wrong turn stories, good luck trying to get the creature out of your head anytime soon. – NVJ