A strong sense of atmosphere and a strong potency for patience are influential in creating a solid horror movie. Too often scary movies rely on jump scares or gore. The Ritual (2018) sticks to the positives and avoids many of the classic pitfalls. As a straight to Netflix movie, director Dave Bruckner delivers the fright and some surprising deep character arcs.
A group of college friends reunite in the in the woods Sweden to commemorate a loss of a friend. When a mishap forces the team to make a snap decision to take a shortcut through the woods, a series of menacing supernatural incidences begin to wreak havoc on the individuals psyche already unbalanced friendships.
Rafe Spall plays the spotlighted character, Luke. We are introduced to him as the egotistical persona who is to cool to go on a hiking adventure, but a strong early twist acts as a catalyzing push to make him fall into a cavern of self-doubt. The other hiking acquaintances Phil, Hutch, Dom and Robert all have their own personalities shined upon in small flashlight illuminated sequences, but The Ritual’s remarkably clever character-digging is all around Luke.
A special shout out needs to be given to location assistant Singureanu Andrei and Bruckner. Those two picked the picture perfect forest setting for this horror tale. Daunting pines combined with those quick-twitched harsh branches reminded me of my own woods from childhood.
There are some horror movie themes and symbols that many people will recognize in The Ritual. The most obvious keynote is the classic cabin in the woods brought to major prominence by The Evil Dead (1981). However, again crediting Bruckner, the standard tropes don’t constrain the viewing experience.
The audience is kept in the dark about what’s going to unfold until the very end of the movie. Not knowing who the antagonistic being/entities puts you in the shoes of the men who are trekking through the terror. It is a personal irritant of mine when movies or TV shows show the big bad guy first. Taking away the mystique is always a risky move, and not many can recover from it. The Ritual doesn’t attempt the take the risk and that is a commendable decision.
The only part of The Ritual that let me down was the very end. The opening 70 minutes is riveting tension, but the final 20 steers a little too far down a beaten path. The audience learns, although in vague portions, the cause for the terror inflicted. It leads to a final confrontation that ends a bit to happily and tied in a bow for what I wanted.
PS: An extra recommendation; watch V/H/S (2012). Bruckner contributed to one of the first Netflix horror specials, and the whole movie creeped my the F out.
STANKO RATING: B-