STARRING: Rafe Spall, Robert James-Collier, Arsher Ali, Sam Troughton
ADAPTED BY: Joe Barton
DIRECTED BY: David Bruckner
Stay out of the woods.
Seriously, does anything good ever happen on a camping trip? Certainly not in the horror genre, and The Ritual is no exception. Based on the book of the same name by Adam Nevill, David Bruckner’s solo directorial debut sees four men on a lads holiday camping in Sweden, where the inevitable happens: they’re hunted by an ancient demonic creature. Four university friends are off hiking in the Swedish wilderness in memory of their fifth friend, who was violently murdered one year earlier.
Luke (Rafe Spall) witnessed the attack but managed to survive by hiding, something he can’t forgive himself for, and neither can the rest of the group. As the crew hike through the beautiful mountain vistas, their personalities emerge naturally: Phil (Arsher Ali) is the funny guy, Hutch (Robert James-Collier) is the rugged leader, Dom (Sam Troughton) is the family man ill-equipped to be hiking at all, and Luke is the screw up friend everyone is seemingly tolerating. The make-up almost feels similar to that of an Edgar Wright movie, and not just because of Rafe Spall’s presence — his Luke is like a weaker, more cowardly version of Simon Pegg’s Gary in The World’s End.
Dom injures himself and is unable to walk properly, causing the rest of the group to go off-path through a shortcut in the woods. This is one of those moments where it’s obvious nobody living in a horror movie has ever seen a horror movie: the dark, thick forest to the side of the mountain, without a clear path marked on the map, is always a bad idea. Any real hiker or camper would know this means certain death, but with Dom unable to make the two-day hike across the mountain, a trip through the woods seems to be the best bet.
Of course, it isn’t. While finding mysterious, unsettling imagery through the woods could turn The Ritual into yet another Blair Witch Project, they manage to keep it fresh. The men banter until they can’t anymore, as gutted animal carcasses are nailed to a tree twenty feet in the air, and a mysterious cabin features a Pagan shrine in the attic. They stay the night in the cabin (again, never do this) and that’s when things really kick off: Luke has vivid dreams recreating the murder and awakes alone in the forest with a mark on his arm. He makes it back to the cabin to find the rest of the group in similar states of disarray: waking nightmares, pissing themselves, or in the case of poor Phil, naked and praying to the creepy shrine.
It ups the psychological factor of the film as each of the men begin to break down in the own ways, between not wanting to admit what happened to being downright terrified. The incident seems to give Luke a purpose he was lacking before. If this were a female cast, it’d be the moment we’d see him as the Final Girl: focused, determined, ready to fight for survival.
Luke’s story is the story of The Ritual, where he’s forced to relive his moment of cowardice over and over and watch more and more of his friends die as he grows resilient and realizes only saving your own skin isn’t the right thing to do. It’s an interesting message for a horror movie, as the genre is normally filled with examples of why you shouldn’t go back for your friend who fell behind. Instead, The Ritual’s central conceit is that running away isn’t good enough. You may live, but could you live with yourself?
That this message comes through a Wicker Man type cult village protecting an ancient Norse creature is just what makes the horror genre so special. Morality lessons in a film can be cheesy or preachy, but not when it’s via a special effect monster that stands taller than the trees, with antlers that look like entirely new scriptures themselves, it’s much more enjoyable.
The Ritual is a fun, spooky film that blends horror tropes and likable characters to create a fun, satisfying experience. Check it out in UK cinemas this weekend — much safer than going camping.
The Ritual is now on general release. Let us know what you make of the film.