The Ritual Dares You to Go Into the Woods

Netflix continues to release a lot of genre content in 2018. To date, we have already seen The Open House, The Cloverfield Paradox, Before I Wake, and Altered Carbon . Unfortunately, it’s been a rough go for horror fans with both The Open House and The Cloverfield Paradox underwhelming. Generally, Netflix seems a bit disinterested in horror. But initial glimpses of The Ritual inspire some optimism. Based on a novel by Adam Nevill, The Ritual’s storyline will seem instantly familiar to horror fans. Nevertheless, the previews promise a dark and intense trip into the woods.

Synposis

Following the tragic death of a friend, four men reunite to reminisce on a hike through the Swedish wilderness. When one member of the group twists his knee, the friends take a shortcut through a dense forest. Soon thereafter they stumble across the gutted remains of a bear impaled onto trees. Lost in the woods in a storm, they find an abandoned cabin and signs pagan ritualism. Haunted by nightmarish visions the friends find themselves being hunted by an unseen monster in the woods.

The Ritual Takes a Familiar Story But Executes It Well

The Ritual isn’t going to score any points for originality. Anyone who’s watched enough horror movies will instantly recognize its premise. Urban characters getting lost in the woods and encountering backwoods dangers is a common horror narrative. At first glance, The Ritual will call to mind several similarly themed movies including The Descent, The Blair Witch Project, and Deliverance. Fortunately, what The Ritual may lack in originality it more than makes up for for with atmosphere, character, and suspense. While there’s certainly a developed character arc, The Ritual is a case study in execution.

Importantly, the character development coincides with the film’s establishment of mounting dangers so the narrative never feels like its dragging.

From its opening tragedy director David Bruckner sets a dark tone. Like the rest of the movie, audiences will know what’s coming. But The Ritual’s violence is sudden and shocking – it’s grounded rather than exploitative. In addition, Bruckner keeps things moving briskly and tightly. Specifically, The Ritual skillfully establishes its characters and existing tensions as it moves from England to the lonely Swedish wilderness. Luke, the main character, feels guilty for hiding while their friend was killed during a store robbery. It’s also a sentiment shared by some of his mates. Much of the first third of the film devotes itself to its characters, exploring these dynamics. Importantly, the character development coincides with the film’s establishment of mounting dangers so the narrative never feels like its dragging.

The Ritual Distinguishes Itself With a Slow Burn and Fantastically Realized Creature

On its technical merits, The Ritual clearly distinguishes itself from other rural horror movies. Just the cinematography alone impresses with eerie wide angle shots of the Swedish wilderness. It drives home a sense of isolation. While Bruckner opts for a slow burn, he increasingly intersperses disturbing imagery across the movie. As a result, The Ritual , which gives potentially rote rural horror scenes and gives them a sense of dread. One scene with a member of the group praying to a disturbing effigy while under some trance will evoke unease. And an early, quick glimpse of the ‘monster’ caught me off guard and prompted a nice jump. Yet for the most part, The Ritual is not a movie that relies on jump scares. Rather Bruckner’s more interested in getting under your skin.

Some of the film’s momentum and tension are derailed in the final act, which slows things down a little as compared to the first two acts.

Some of the film’s momentum and tension are derailed in the final act, which slows things down a little as compared to the first two acts. The climax picks up the pace and gives the audience a satisfying character arc for Luke though the conclusion felt a bit abrupt. For a smaller film the monster effects were impressive; Bruckner wisely keeps his creature largely in the shadows but we’re shown just enough to be satisfied while leaving much to the imagination. The screenplay also avoid the tedious need to tell the audience too much – like the monster itself, the ‘why’ isn’t exhaustively explained.

The Ritual Marks the First Winner of 2018

Though The Ritual isn’t overly original, it’s definitely a strong, suspenseful tale worth watching. Consider it one of the rare cases of the movie improving on its source material. Strong acting, suspenseful tone, good creature effects, and some genuinely shocking moments make up for an over-reliance on familiar horror tropes. For horror fans, The Ritual on Netflix offers the first solid horror entry of 2018.

THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: B+T

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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