The Ritual movie review: A truly terrifying horror movie that you must unearth from the bowels of Netflix
Director - David Bruckner
Cast - Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton
Rating - 4/5
More than any other genre in cinema, horror is the one that asks the most of its audience. Chances are if you watch enough films, you’d find plenty of great superhero epics or comedies without putting in too much effort. But horror movies – the good ones, anyway – will never come to you. You must seek them out. You will have to be brave, and sometimes, foolish.
You will have to ignore all logic and tiptoe into dark basements alone, you will have to visit empty attics and walk down lonely paths. Or, if you’re like the four guys from The Ritual, you will have to ignore the map in your hand and the safety of the trail in front of you, and you will have to enter creepy forests.
Like most great horror films, it is very likely that most of the people that end up watching The Ritual will do it at home. While the film received a theatrical run in the UK, the rest of us will probably discover it on Netflix, where it will likely be buried four scrolls down, like so many other tremendous movies and TV shows that get lost in the sheer avalanche of content available on the streaming service.
But if you’re like me, completely fed up of and desensitized to mainstream horror – you know, films that prefer cheap jump scares to actual, visceral thrills – then you’re in for a genuine treat. The Ritual is the finest, pure horror movie since Get Out. And if we’re being even more traditional with our definitions, you’d have to go as far back as 2015’s The Witch to make a suitable comparison.
It’s about a group of four friends who travel to Sweden to hike across the countryside in honour of a fallen comrade. Their friend was killed in a brutal liquor store robbery six months ago while one of them – Rafe Spall’s character – stood by and did nothing. So off they go, carrying more emotional baggage than the physical rucksacks on their backs.
At first glance, The Ritual looks like a film that borrows heavily from other classic forest horror movies – The Blair Witch Project’s imprint is deep, as is the influence of films such as Eden Lake and more recently, Wolf Creek. But as it trudges along, over hillocks and across streams, it transforms into its own thing.
Director David Bruckner, who has made several micro-budget horror films in the past, brings an almost Shyamalan-esque tranquillity to the proceedings. He shoots long and wide, allowing us to soak in the idyllic surroundings, all the while building dread. But unlike most modern horror films, there’s very little – if any at all – that jumps up (or out) at the viewer. There are barely any loud noises. On the contrary, the film relies on some truly exquisite sound design, like the noise of rustling trees and flowing water, and very well executed pacing. Bruckner understands that for true horror – deep-rooted, unnerving, and unshakable – mood and restraint should be favoured over anything else.
The film ratchets up the tension by developing its characters, by throwing them into situations you know, as a seasoned moviegoer, that they cannot escape from. It creates moments of sheer panic only through the power of suggestion – with symbolism, faraway growls, and that iconic Blair Witch sense of being trapped in an endless, inescapable cycle of doom.
The cracks begin to appear fairly early on between the group – it’s almost written in stone, or, keeping with this film’s theme, etched onto trees, that personal differences must creep up between friends in moments of crisis. When one of them twists an ankle, it is suggested that they cut through their path and take a detour via an immense forest.
And it is in the forest that they stumble across occult symbols carved into trees, ritualistically dismembered animals, and surreal signs of witchcraft. But they’re trapped. They’ve lost their bearings, they’re tired out of their wits and they’re convinced that someone – or something – is following their every move. And just then, when things are looking absolutely hopeless, one of them says exactly what you’ve been thinking: “Guys, it’s about to get dark real soon.”
This is about as much as you need to know about The Ritual. There’s more, of course. There are moments of grand visual ambition, and there are moments of great emotional depth, and the terror barely lets up. Right to its final moments, The Ritual keeps reinventing itself; surprising, scaring and most impressively, haunting.
Watch the trailer for The Ritual here