DIR: David Bruckner • WRI: Joe Barton • PRO: Jonathan Cavendish, Richard Holmes, Andy Serkis • DOP: Andrew Shulkind • ED: Mark Towns• DES: Adrian Curelea • MUS: Ben Lovett • CAST: Rafe Spall, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton
With October underway, Get Out being touted as one of the best horror films of the decade, and the intense remake of It imminently surpassing The Exorcist as the highest grossing horror film in box-office history, it is such a good time to be a horror fan. Right now in 2017, it looks as though horror can do no wrong, and even this year’s terrible entries (such as The Bye Bye Man or Wish Upon) still have a distinctive badness to them that can be enjoyable to watch masochistically, something horror lovers are all too familiar with. Luckily, The Ritual doesn’t belong to this category and, although not as thematically impactful as Get Out or well-executed like It, still manages to solidly provide a few interesting ideas in an overall entertaining monster movie.
Based on the award-winning novel of the same name, The Ritual reads as something akin to The Stag meets Blair Witch Project. Six months after an endeared friend dies in a botched robbery, four friends go on a hiking trip up Swedish mountains despite none of them bearing any wilderness experience. Tired, hungry, and desperate for a beer, the friends decide to take a shortcut through a nearby forest which goes as well as might be expected in this kind of movie. Soon, they find shelter and begin experiencing intense nightmares, with one of them, Luke (Rafe Spall, Prometheus), reliving the moments of their friend’s murder because of some personal guilt. Panicked and embittered by their terrors, the friends are soon lost and quickly convinced that something horrible stalks them in the forest.
Admittedly, as more and more of what stalks them is revealed, The Ritual loses more and more of its momentum, culminating in a twist reminiscent of another classic horror film that would simply be too much of a spoiler to reference. As with so many horror films exploring an enigmatic figure, the mystery is always far more compelling than the reveal, and although it might have worked in Adam Nevill’s novel, it simply doesn’t translate to screen.
What does work, however, is the chemistry between the film’s four protagonists. While the external tension is always present, what makes The Ritual set itself apart is its internal conflicts between the four friends. Although never explicit, it’s clear that some have found greater success than others post-college, hence why these friends find themselves reluctantly on a cheap camping trip. That economic and class difference between the four allows personal resentments to overshadow rationality in escaping the forest, and it’s the strength of Sam Troughton, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, and Rafe Spall, which help carry the film. Especially Rafe Spall, who continues to prove himself as a unique presence in film, adding a lot of dimensions to an already interesting character with something as simple as a subtle hand gesture.
Whether or not The Ritual stands to repeat viewing is up for debate, its lacklustre third act and brisk ending does a substantial disservice overall, but the film still stands as a fun trip for bloodthirsty horror fanatics. The Ritual isn’t a scary film, but an uneasy one. With a basic premise like ‘people being chased in the woods,’ it’s hard to screw that up, and what director David Bruckner (Southbound; V/H/S) delivers here is a decent effort just in time for the Halloween season.
12A (See IFCO for details)
The Ritual is released 13th October 2017