13th October 2017
A group of college friends reunite for a trip to the forest, but encounter a menacing presence in the woods that's stalking them.
Dense forests are a popular setting for horror. Not only is the location a labyrinthian paradise for screenwriters to lose their hapless characters, but there are endless creatures and terrifying foes which could lurk in the depths. A few examples which spring to mind are the excellent low budget British splatterfest Dog Soldiers, in which a team of hardened soldiers is stalked by gangly werewolves, the workplace horror comedy Severence and the most obvious of all The Blair Witch Project, where a documentary team is spooked by some re-arranged sticks. David Bruckner’s The Ritual is the latest to use a tree-laden backdrop and while it’s not nearly as memorable as the aforementioned trio, there are a few aspects which save it from being completely forgettable.
To commemorate their murdered friend Robert, old college friends Luke (Rafe Spall), Hutch (Robert James-Collier), Dom (Sam Troughton) and Phil (Arsher Ali) go hiking in a Swedish forest. After spending a night in a seemingly abandoned cabin, the group begins to have vivid and terrifying nightmares. But that’s the least of their worries, as an unseen entity picks them off one by one – and in turn, they uncover an ancient evil who has no intention of letting them leave alive.
Starting promisingly enough, The Ritual‘s initial premise is entirely plausible and goes a long way in the following hour being equally as entertaining. The group’s chemistry is undeniably strong, giving the desired impression of longtime friends. After the catalyst event of Robert’s murder early on, and Luke’s subsequent participation (or lack of) in the crime, the dynamic shifts and there’s certainly an uneasy tension between all the jokes and banter. Rafe Spall is fantastic as the responsibility-shirking Luke, while Robert James-Collier impresses as Hutch, who appears to be much stronger than the reality would suggest. Sam Troughton as Dom is the most relatable of the gang in that everyone knows someone who complains over the smallest of ailments, blowing everything way out of proportion, but it’s Arsher Ali’s character of Phil who is the most disappointing, as it has the most potential and strongest link to the antagonist yet ends up going nowhere.
A few bumps in the night set the tone nicely for The Ritual, but it never feels like the stakes rise with every new problem the group encounter. What it does do right though is keep the beast hidden for as long as possible, with the occasional tease of what it could be here and there. Alas, if ambiguity is one of its strengths, the moment the creature is unveiled takes away one of the major plus points of the film. And while the design of the abnormality is one of the more unique looks in quite some time, The Ritual would have greatly benefited from never actually showing what was hunting the party.
The film’s finale arrives abruptly too and doesn’t wrap things up as tightly as you’d like, but if you’re looking for a horror to sacrifice your time on, then The Ritual may just be the offering you require.
Believable character chemistry
Wise choice to not reveal the monster for the majority
Stakes never seem to rise
Probably should have left revealing the monster at all