The film adaptation of The Ritual is effective and exceptionally creepy, despite its fair share of clichés and standard storylines.
After the death of a best friend of theirs, a group of four men venture out into the woods of Scandinavia in hopes to relax, forget about the past, and to spend quality time together. Sooner rather than later however, the band of friends begin to get lost in the winding forests and stumble upon a creepy abandoned cabin which they are forced to sleep inside due to harsh outdoor weather conditions. After that night, things will never be the same, as an ominous entity hunts them down one by one in the dark and seemingly inescapable forest.
The Ritual has a story that can seem painfully familiar at times. A group of friends wander out into the woods when suddenly they can’t find their way out, and now are being hunted by an unknown entity. It has been done numerous times before; the most notable being 1999’s The Blair Witch Project. Despite having similarities to other horror film storylines such as Blair Witch Project, and The Witch to name a few, The Ritual manages to tell its own creepy tale that was frightening and disturbing.
Practically the entire running time of this film, you are never quite sure what exactly it is that is hunting down numerous individuals in these woods and lurking around. There are several occasions where we get little hints as to what it is. This will more than likely be a bother for audiences that want their straight-forward horror film where the main entity is clearly shown throughout the film, because The Ritual takes its time on setting up its big villain. For me, I found this element of the film riveting. The Ritual sets up its main villain in a way that was both terrifying yet at the same time extremely fascinating. Numerous times throughout the film, we see items that give us hints as to how powerful the main entity is, and even old symbols that wanderers of the past have left behind that connect to the film’s antagonist.
Another element that was fascinating to have present was the sense of humor. Many times in the film we are tensed up waiting to see what will happen next – what the luminous being in the woods will do – when a character says a subtle, but welcomed joke that helps us breathe for a few moments. In some films, this may seem forced and even a bit cheesy, but in The Ritual, the humor works mainly because the jokes are about the situation they are in. It happens a lot throughout the motion picture – a character is in a tough spot, when they say something humorous that never comes across as tired.
Unfortunately, there is occasionally cringe-worthy dialogue spread throughout The Ritual. In fact, one scene that was supposed to be dreadfully serious and terrifying instead ended up making me laugh due to the bad line delivery of one of the actors. A similar experience happens in the film’s breathless third act, where an individual screams something. It was intended to be a defining character moment, but it felt rather silly and unnecessary rather than powerful and exciting. Furthermore, as aforementioned, clichés do occur throughout. If I listed some of them here, it would unfortunately spoil the film, but one of the most notable being the fact that the group of friends wander through the woods and it gets dark incredibly quickly, because then the entity can go after them.
Luckily for the most part, the acting in this Netflix original film is great – particularly the acting from Rafe Spall, who portrays Luke. His performance is extremely raw, and you genuinely feel sympathy for him, mainly because he was present when his best friend was killed in the opening few minutes of the film. Easily the funniest character in the film is Dom, portrayed by Sam Troughton. Seemingly every time he was on screen, I was always laughing as his character, as aforementioned, makes jokes about the situation he is currently in as a way of coping.
The cinematography in The Ritual is some of the best camera work I have seen in a horror film in years, by Andrew Shulkind. So many shots of the forest covered in mist and cool air give the film a disturbingly creepy vibe that worked, and had it not been there, the overall experience of the film would not have been as effective. Additionally, the musical score accompanying the scenes throughout is euphoric, creepy, and has a brilliant way of sneaking up on you, composed by Ben Lovett.
As I touched upon earlier, the third act of The Ritual is genuinely masterful. Rarely am I shocked and thrilled when a horror film comes to a close, as more often than not, endings in horror films can be clichéd and forced. The same can not be said with this film, gratefully. The entire film beforehand was definitely weird, and you were never sure what exactly was going on, but it’s not until the film’s final moments when things start to get drastically hectic and scary. This ending may not have worked in other horror films, but it works in part due to the film’s lore that is set up along the way in the plot, and also because of how weird the film gets as it goes along. It is almost certain that the ending to The Ritual will be talked about for a long time. Some people may really hate how it all concludes, and some may really cherish and appreciate it’s frenzied and bizarre ending. To me, this is an ending that is exhilarating and creepy, and I do in fact appreciate that.
Despite having several clichés and sometimes poor line delivery, The Ritual manages to tell an extremely haunting tale and sets up a bizarre yet incredibly eerie world with an antagonist that works in this story.
Overall Grade: B
Cast: Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton
Directed by: David Bruckner
Distributed by: eOne Films (United Kingdom), Netflix (International)
Running Time: 94 minutes