THE RITUAL (2017)
Directed by David Bruckner
Written by Joe Barton, Adam Nevill (novel)
Starring Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton, Paul Reid, Matthew Needham, Jacob James Beswick, Maria Erwolter, Hilary Reeves, Peter Liddell, Francesca Mula, Kerri McLean
There’s nothing wrong with a good old monster in the woods movie—especially when it has a fantastic cast, amazing pacing, and a hell of a cool monster. THE RITUAL is such a film and you should all check it out!
No this is not the Korean survival horror film or the Mickey Keating motel cult flick, this THE RITUAL popped up out of nowhere on Netflix and even a week after seeing it, I’m still amazed by how deftly it handles such familiar horror tropes. The film opens with a group of best buds trying to figure out where their next bro-cation is going to be. Leaving the pub, a few of the group goes into a liquor shop only to find out that it is being held up. When one of the friends dies that night, the survivors decide to scatter their fallen friend’s ashes, but when one of them hurts their ankle, they decide to cut the hike through the Swedish countryside short and cut through a densely forested area to get to civilization. Unknown to them, the forest is haunted by a monster none of them could imagine that not only is a formidable beast, but has the ability to tear the fears right out of you and shove them in your face.
First and foremost, David Bruckner and Co. take what we know about a monster in the woods survival horror and burned it down to basics. Even before we get to the monster, Bruckner wastes little time before thrusting the friends and the viewer right into the action with very little discourse or exposition necessary. This is simply a group of friends who spent their formative years together and have all attempted to grow up—some more successful than others. It deals with the distance that grows between friends as adulthood sets in, but never bogs you down with it. Everything comes out with dialog between the hikers during the action going on. The addition of the monster after them simply highlights this rift between the friends and the story plays out the way it does by allowing the characters and their relationships with one another to guide the narrative rather than the other way around. Many films are successful at building characters, but all of that falls by the wayside when the threat occurs. Here, the threat is driven by characters, which yields to a much more interesting story to tell.
On top of the fantastic use of characterization and story, the film has one hell of a monster. Coming off as a mix between a Native American Wendigo and maybe a Centaur from Greek Mythology, the beast in THE RITUAL is unlike anything I have seen before on film. It truly looks like a majestic beast of myth, worthy of the worship it receives from the local hillfolk who themselves are pretty creepy in their own right. Better to be seen than to be described here, the monster is as iconic as anything I’ve seen before and the CG used is amazingly smooth and realistic every stomp of the way.
Relying on some truly fine and talented actors makes the film all the more watchable. Rafe Spall (son of Timothy) is the lead and carries the emotional burden of the entire film in a capable and realistic way. His reactions are not your typical macho bullshit. He is scared shitless, as anyone else would be in that situation. DOWNTON ABBEY’s Robert James-Collier is another standout in the film as a more capable leading man; though this casting once again serves to turn what is expected on its head once the action starts. THE RITUAL doesn’t reinvent the monster in the woods movie, but it does serve as a perfect example of how sometimes, when made with great care and deft talent, the classic monster riffs can still be fun and exhilarating. THE RITUAL is highly recommended.