A film review by Phee Arnison
I stumbled upon David Bruckner’s ‘The Ritual’ completely by accident when looking for something different to watch on Netflix one night. While I do enjoy a lot of mainstream, popular horror (I’m looking at you, James Wan), I definitely have a soft spot for indie horror which probably originates from watching Dog Soldiers as a child (if you haven’t already, check out Janine Pipe’s review!)
Settling down for some late-night spooky viewing, I wasn’t really sure what to expect but I was definitely not disappointed.
The Ritual follows four men as they embark upon a Swedish hiking trip in memory of their deceased friend, Rob. Once a tight-knit group, there is a considerable strain between them. Luke – played by Rafe Spall – feels intense guilt for his cowardice, which he feels directly contributed to Rob’s death and believes that his friends blame him for it.
However, Hutch (Robert James-Collier), Dom (Sam Traughton) and Phil (Arsher Ali) are all wrestling with demons of their own, which manifest throughout the story as they begin to have unnerving nightmares and strange sleepwalking episodes as their journey progresses.
The beautiful backdrop of Sweden is both serene, yet sinister and only becomes more foreboding as the men decide to leave the beaten track and venture into the forest below. Although this diversion is supposed to provide them with a scenic shortcut, it quickly becomes apparent that not everything is as it seems. The men stumble upon the eviscerated corpse of a deer strung up in the trees, as well as strange Nordic symbols and abandoned cottages filled with unusual effigies.
Luke is one of the first to realize that they are not as alone as they thought, seeing and hearing strange sounds and movements in the trees. While his companions are at first skeptical, they soon realize that their friend isn’t as paranoid as he seems, when members of the group begin to disappear and are discovered strung up, much like the aforementioned deer.
Soon, only two of the men remain and they must quickly see past their earlier differences and embrace their forgotten brotherhood in order to survive. Encountering cultish locals and a deadly creature (whose design is one of the more interesting and creative that I’ve seen in a while), the odds are certainly stacked against them, but the characters’ newfound appreciation for life, coupled with a dramatic finale, leads to a satisfying payoff at the end.
The Ritual is an interesting take on grief and overcoming demons, both mental and physical. Marry these concepts with the intense backdrop of a perilous journey and formidable enemy and you have the recipe for an engaging horror film.
The cinematography and atmosphere are both bleak and claustrophobic; a perfect reflection of the relationship between the four men. While the film adopts concepts that we’ve definitely seen before – particularly in the Blair Witch Project – it utilizes them in a unique and engaging way. Though there is some use of CGI. There are also some fantastic practical effects peppered throughout the film. As well as some great costumes and sound editing.
I have since read the book – written by Adam Nevill in 2011 – and can wholeheartedly say that it is equally as enjoyable and engaging as its a film adaptation. The Ritual is a great film to curl up and watch on a cold night, and I would definitely recommend checking it out.
Phee Arnison is a writer and editor from the North East of England with a BA in English Studies and an MA in Creative Writing.
She is an intersectional feminist, lover of literature and film, and a mental health advocate.