EONE FILMS (2017)
Director: David Bruckner
Starring: Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton
Northern Sweden (aka actual shooting location - Romania) probably won’t move any further up the list of desirable spots for a lads holiday thanks to The Ritual, the debut full-feature from David Bruckner. After seeing the movie, it would seem that Ibiza, Magaluf or whatever Greek Island sounds best will remain top of the list for the hordes of heavy-testicled gangs looking for debauchery. Not quite the standard woodland peril horror, the movie takes a few twists and turns en route to its end.
70% of it is very good.
Having lost one of their friends, Rob (Paul Reid), to a tragic - and violent - murder, Luke (Spall), Phil (Ali), Hutch (James-Collier) and Dom (Troughton) decide to honour the memory of their friend by taking a hiking trip to Northern Sweden – the destination Rob proposed before his passing. The trip hits Luke hardest as he had to witness Rob’s murder from a hiding place, having decided not to intervene. Traversing the terrain proves troublesome and becomes a real issue as Dom falls foul of a divot and damages his knee - a trip through the dense forest would cut their travelling time in half and allow them to get to the bar quicker, so that’s just what they decide. As they progress through the woods, strange tree carvings start to appear and gutted animals displayed in the trees give a clear sign something is not right and the only refuge for the night is an abandoned shack – the place where everything begins to drastically fall apart for the four men.
Not entirely original, but clever enough to eschew typical eye-rolling conventions, The Ritual revels in ramping up the atmosphere and delivering a creepy, unsettling experience – at least for three-quarters of the movie. There are large nods to The Blair Witch Project, which is seemingly unavoidable with the location and events, and other horror staples as the movie begins to settle into ‘good, old-fashioned horror movie’ territory – and on a cold evening, what could be better? The final act derails the movie and destroys the mystery that had been created so well and is a detriment to the overall movie which is a shame – it’s just a bit too OTT and silly. It feels out of place and, despite the fact that the movie is called The RITUAL, the actual ritual itself – and everything surrounding it - is jarring and wholly unsatisfying.
The tight cast all deliver good performances – especially a brooding Rafe Spall and an unshackled Robert James-Collier – and the writing allows them to feel like genuine people. Whether it’s their “banter” (I hate that word) or their actions as things begin to go awry, they feel like a group of old, pretty rational friends. Every decision is argued or debated and it never really feels by-numbers – i.e. “oh look, weird carvings, it’s probably nothing” or “this shack seems perfectly fine.” This authenticity really helps with the unnerving tension the movie creates – the journey doesn’t come across as particularly fake. The cinematography also lends a large helping hand as the vast woodland is emphasized with wide, silent shots and the well-shot dream sequences add a different texture. Throw in a seething, stammering score as well and the atmosphere is set. That third act, however. Sigh. Had the movie taken the approach set by The Blair Witch Project – less is more – then The Ritual could have been a superb addition to the genre, however, any nuance is blown away in favour of strange visual ‘nasties’ and a flawed message of redemption.
The Ritual is solid, it’s unspectacular in its presentation (which is only a good thing) and it mostly delivers what horror fans want. Crammed full of atmosphere and biting tension, the movie is only let down by a disappointing third act. Where fellow wooded Brit horrors The Descent, Dog Soldiers and Eden Lake proved that it’s best to just skip the forests, The Ritual only adds to this theory.
If you see disembowelled animals and tree carvings during your woodland stroll, burn the forest down.
February 6th 2018