The Ritual Review (2017)

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

The Ritual Review (2017)

Horrorific content by adrian on August 29th, 2018 | Movie Review | Supernatural, Cult, Cabin in the Woods, Wilderness, Folk Horror

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It’s about a group of guys who go hiking on vacation, get injured, lost and hunted by... something.

The Ritual was directed by David Bruckner (who also directed Iron Wolf) and stars Rafe Spall (from Shaun of the Dead), Rob James-Collier and Sam Troughton  (from Slumber).

Your Darkest Dream Awaits You

The Ritual Review

Anyone who’s seen their share of horror movies knows that when people decide to wander into the woods for no good reason, nothing positive can come of it, especially if there’s potential drama brewing within the group involved. However, the incredibly long-lived popularity of such iconic classics as The Blair Witch Project and The Evil Dead prove we love to watch it happen anyway. The Ritual is a 2017 British horror film that attempts to revisit this familiar trope to the tune of interesting results.

The storyline follows a group of old university friends as they hike through the wilderness of Sweden. There was once a fifth member of their circle as well, but he died a tragic death during a liquor store hold-up about a year before the events of the film. One of the remaining members, Luke (Rafe Spall), was also present at the liquor store during the incident and his decision to hide instead of attempt to help his comrade still haunts him. When the group decides to take an unscheduled shortcut through the woods in an attempt to reach their destination faster, the terror begins.

The Ritual is actually based on a novel by Adam Nevill and it definitely shows. Although it’s packed with suspense and scares aplenty, it’s really a character-driven film first and a horror movie second. The mood is dark, intense, and heavy-feeling – appropriate considering the backstory of the group’s missing member and the tension his absence continues to cause within the group of characters. There’s certainly an element of the psychological involved, making this film a great choice if you like your horror films with a cerebral feel to them.

Several times, The Ritual slips pointedly into the realm of the surreal. For instance, the friends unwisely decide to spend the night in an empty cabin filled with occult symbols and mysterious items that can’t help but remind the viewer of dark witchcraft. All of the hikers are plagued by disturbing dreams all night long with Luke actually reliving the nightmarish liquor store robbery and his failure to save his friend. There are also additional plot elements to be enjoyed and appreciated as well, including a mysterious cult living deep in the woods, plus monsters that are positively Lovecraftian in nature.

David Bruckner shines in the his role as director here. Whether you go into The Ritual expecting them or not, the film has some truly fantastic scenes and sequences to appreciate (e.g. the dream sequences experienced by the hikers in the cabin). The story as a whole is also beautifully shot and appropriately brooding. The actors also shine in their respective roles, especially Rafe Spall (Shaun of the Dead, Black Mirror) as Luke. The sets and design of the monsters show some serious creativity. In fact, the acting and the visuals alone make the film well worth seeing.

However, the major flaw of The Ritual is that it tries to be too many things all at the same time. It’s a viscerally emotional exploration of the effects of grief. However, it’s also a bona fide horror movie that tries desperately to include what sometimes feels like too many tropes that are already overused. In other words, there’s a lot about the film that feels very familiar – maybe too familiar to some people. On that level, the film almost gets in its own way and fails to reach its full potential, but there’s so much else to appreciate about it that it certainly deserves your attention regardless. The Ritual originally premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2017 and is now streaming on Netflix .

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