THE RITUAL: Intrigue Gets Lost In The Woods
The ensemble may be the only thing of interest in The Ritual, which is otherwise riddled with clichés and saddled with an uninspired story.
The Ritual is a new British film from director David Bruckner that follows a reunited group of university friends who go hiking in northern Sweden, in memory of a murdered friend. It was the dead friend’s idea to take a trip there when the group was gathering suggestions for a holiday, shortly before he was executed.
Within the first ten minutes, we learn all of this and see his brutal murder by machete during a stick-up – Luke (Rafe Spall), the de facto leader of the group, witnesses it all a few feet way. Within the first ten minutes, you can tell that, despite the premise, this isn’t going to be a spiritual journey drama in the way of The Way – it’s going to be something much more horrific.
Horrific is a double entendre
The Ritual is a straight-up horror film, and it’s also not as successful in its storytelling as The Way. In fact, it’s just not very good at all. The horror of the film alternates between Luke being psychologically haunted by the murder and something to do with Nordic forest beings. Neither are exactly terrifying, with the film’s first ten minutes ultimately suggesting something bloodier than what eventually transpires.
It follows all the familiar beats of the average studio horror flick and contains all its genre clichés, such as nightmare scenarios, dismissals of signs of danger, and dwindling interpersonal relationships. These are beaten into the ground so much that it loses all intrigue and becomes predictable. It’s easy to guess who gets offed next. What The Ritual also has in common with many uninvolving horror movies is the “too little, too late” pay-off at the end – the only time when it actually becomes creepy.
On the other hand, many of the great horror movies are also social commentaries, like Get Out on racism or environmental collapse in mother!, and The Ritual has an early mention of Brexit. However, it doesn’t take the opportunity to follow it up with anything of substance or subtlety. It’s only early on during these moments when the film is engaging in any capacity, thanks to the group still being together before they get lost in the woods.
The good bits
Their relationship to each other is the strongest aspect of the film. The well-cast actors turn in commendable performances (the traumatized Rafe Spall is a highlight) and have a natural chemistry together. The dialogue is well-written in that the nature of their conversations, quips and retorts are all authentically British. There’s potential for a funnier movie here, and if there was one single reason for me to recommend this movie, it’d be if you were a big fan of any of the actors.
In terms of technical aspects, the group’s journey through the hills of northern Sweden begins with a noteworthy aerial shot. It captures why the picturesque area would be a potential route for hikers, as well as why it would also be terrifying to be lost out there, with the imposing, endless nature surrounding the characters as they walk. The rest of the film is peppered with shots from angles that allow to serve the same effective dual purpose.
The Ritual: Conclusion
The Ritual has a promising start, but only proceeds to go downhill. The actors uphold it with all their strength, but that sadly doesn’t prove to be enough to overcome the familiar and clichéd storytelling. The more lost in the woods the characters got, the more lost my focus was.
What are your favorite horror films about characters getting lost in the natural world?
The Ritual is now playing in UK theaters; a US release date has yet to be announced. For more international release dates, click here.
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