The Ritual Movie Review
Written by Simret Cheema-Innis
Released by Entertainment One
Directed by David Bruckner
Written by Joe Barton and Adam Nevill
2017, 94 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
UK theatrical release on 13th October 2017
Rafe Spall as Luke
Robert James-Collier as (as Rob James-Collier)
Arsher Ali as Phil
Paul Reid as Robert
This adaptation of Adam Nevill’s novel of the same name is a forest-horror tale where five 40-something-year-old friends embark on a hiking adventure after a tragic event.
Luke (Rafe Spall) the protagonist of the story, haunted by guilt and battling with post-traumatic stress disorder is dragged, reluctantly, on the semi-bonding escapade which begins in Sweden. Rob (Robert James-Collier), the stronger of the bereaved coterie, encourages them all as they each grieve in unison while working through the almighty hills and valleys of the arctic circle, often coming at loggerheads with each other over the incident before the trip.
With one of the crew enduring an injury and a far cry from any city lights and life, the men make a hasty decision and walk off-trail through a forest. It’s apparently a short cut, but with the light diminishing rapidly and a storm looming in the distance, the friends have little choice but to seek shelter in a strange old cabin.
Inside, the cabin is enveloped with strange wiccan-like symbols. Luke is sure he hears something outside, but Rob, the more rational of them, encourages them to sleep and awake at sunrise to complete the trek.
The night is filled with torturous dream-like apparitions for them all, leading them to bolt out of the nightmarish cabin at daybreak. However, with men being…men, all of them are reluctant to speak about what they each endured though they all seem to be deeply affected by the nocturnal phenomenon.
Another night promises darkness, and the friends find themselves one by one falling victim to an unknown flesh-hungry entity which preys on the weakness of their dwindling souls.
Adam Nevill is known for his cult-like pagan stories with supernatural twists, preying on the fear and the imperfection of humankind. His book Last Days is a perfect portrayal of psychological dismay, launching the reader into nail-biting territory balancing on the edge of reason and reality. He creates fiction which feels palpable yet supernatural and otherworldly in description resulting in brilliantly three dimensional characters who question, dig and escape his murky and expressive narratives.
While this adaptation takes from a few other forest-themed horrors, this is movie-making formulaic practice for director David Bruckner with the beats in right place with Acts One, Two and three carefully crafted. The film itself is not a grandiose affair in comparison to other horror-in-the-woods movies. This can be fairly disappointing in the one sense because you’re hoping for more scares, horror and not the generally recycled horror-in-the-woods tropes that we expect to see. There’s dynamism between the characters, with Bruckner not taking an ageist stance, it’s refreshing to see men in their late 30’s to early 40’s bonding and trying to support each other through what becomes a messed-up situation.
With guilt being one of the main themes in the movie, abstract dreamlike sequences further emboss character and fear which are beautifully composed, cementing both delusion, dread and the guilt Luke feels. Although the best is saved until the last, in terms of the monster-reveal, the pre-tease becomes a tiring affair and the actual creature mythology ambiguous if not clichéd, for example the strange-inbred people of the foreign-lands parable which plays right into what we expect…the different is feared and perversely dangerous.
It’s difficult to be affected by this movie as it feels dated, especially when you have films like André Øvredal's Troll Hunter, Corin Hardy’s The Hallow (which does have some terrifying creature moments), Antichrist, Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead and even Blair Witch, where there are some pagan similarities. These films are also cinematically appeasing, making use of the great wilderness and capturing landscapes which give a great sense of fantastical hidden-away worlds. The Ritual is quite simplistic in its cinematography where the mystical element of the environment is downplayed; perhaps this is what gives the film more outdated aesthetic.
The viewing experience might be further enhanced after reading the actual detail in Adam Nevill’s novel, creating a special spark that feels amiss in the film. But it’s still good to see a well-crafted British horror movie on the map, with riveting dialogue, suspense and tight ensemble.