The Ritual is a very interesting, low-budget horror movie that premiered in cinema’s last year in the UK. As a British person I can vouch that this movie gives you everything you’d expect from British horror, it is dark, gritty, plot driven and dry. With it’s recent premiere on the American Netflix and an entire new audience able to watch this movie it begs the questions. Will this movie translate to American viewers idea of horror? What sets this movie apart? And, above all else, is it worth the watch?
Well, these are tough questions to answer but you know the drill, I’m going to give you the good, the bad and the down-right geeky and let you decide for yourself!
This movie is based on a group of University friends that decide to hike across the King’s trail in Sweden to memorialize a member of their group that was tragically killed in a robbery. However, of course nothing about this trip is going to go to plan because where would be the fun in that? Shortly into the hike a member of the group injures their ankle and as a result they decide to take a shortcut through the woods which is never a good idea in a horror movie and from there the plot is set in motion.
Principally, this movie was well written for screen by Joe Barton and Adam Nevill, who wrote the novel that this movie is based on. Initially, the plot seems like something we have seen before and it’s undeniable that this movie takes inspiration from The Blair Witch Project, Evil Dead and other horror films from the ‘lost in the woods’ genre, but actually there are some really nice, unique elements of this movie that are worth watching for. The monster for example, which I will try not to spoil for you because it is truly creepy when you see it, is something I have definitely not seen before.
Admirably, the motives of the plot are strong, this plot has a purpose and some form of moral outcome unlike some of the weaker story-lines we have within this genre such as a group of kids just messin’ around in the woods for some unexplained reason. Additionally, the characters were nicely written, believable and well-rounded. We often see in this genre of horror a group of filler characters that are quite clearly only there to be killed one by one. However, there is a really conceivable chemistry between The Ritual’s core characters which drastically aids the plot and sets this movie apart, much to the credit of it’s writers. The movie doesn’t go into heavy handed character building tactics such as talking about their families, wives, jobs etc because why would it need to? This is a group of guys that have known each other for years, they wouldn’t need to talk about these things which I strongly appreciate as a viewer and as a screenwriter myself. Yet, although we as an audience never hear about these minuet details we still feel as though we get to know these guys, the dialogue they slip is subtle and believable enough that we really begin to shape ideas of their character, their lives, their flaws, how they fit into the group etc without really obvious chunks of transparent back story dialogue. I became invested in these characters, especially Rafe Spall’s character, Luke, our main protagonist. We haven’t really seen Spall in a horror setting so I wasn’t too sure what to expect but he did a fantastic job conveying the emotions of a damaged character grieving for his friend. His transformation from remorse to some form of acceptance is breathtaking in the way that his trauma and guilt is consistently referenced and we really come from this movie feeling some form of resolution.
I think the only point I felt this movie overtly struggle was at it’s ending. The first 50-60 mins of the movie were strong (even if the pacing lagged at various points.) The subplot of the things attached to the creature, however, was a little bit more than the story needed. It kind of just came in at the end and although it did make sense with the plot I think certain elements weren’t necessarily vital. They could have found these answers in another way that didn’t completely change the tone and score of the movie. This ending jolted the story a little by ruining the creepy illusion of complete isolation that I really liked in the first part of the movie and within this genre.
The ‘lost in the woods’ genre of horror can be really hard to make as visually captivating as The Ritual achieved. The trees in the forest were all slim, pale, interesting to look at and the film used them to its advantage in its use of hauntingly long shots and unsettling extended takes that really amplified the creep factor. You find yourself scanning the landscape for anything creepy and let your imagination run wild, the same way you would if you were really in that situation. This cinematic tactic was really appreciated and I have to commend the movie’s director David Bruckner for this. Additionally, to Bruckner’s credit, although this movie did follow some horror clichés, there are not a lot of jump scares in this movie and frankly, I am hailing the Gods of horror for this blessing! If you know me, or have read any of my previous horror movie reviews you will know that cheap jump scares are among some of my most hated horror clichés, they cheapen the plot and distract from the genuinely scary parts of the movie, so the absence of this in this movie was really well received. Instead, this movie relied a lot on soundscaping and using their off-screen space. These subtle horror elements really are underrated, by not giving you all the visuals you need they rely on your imagination but let me tell you, even my messed up imagination wasn’t ready for the monstrosity of that creature!
Have you seen The Ritual? Let us know your thoughts in the comments or tweet us @TheGameOfNerds