[This is a repost of our 2018 review]
After experiencing a tragedy, friends Luke (Rafe Spall), Phil (Arsher Ali), Hutch (Robert James-Collier) and Dom (Sam Troughton) attempt to cope with their grief by embarking on a hike in Northern Sweden. When Dom injures his leg, the group elects to take a short cut through a forest to get to the hike lodge. Upon entering the forest, they are subjected to nightmares, strange events and a malevolent, unknown evil.
The Ritual is another horror movie debuting on Netflix’s expanding roster and begins life as a rather different beast to how it ends up. Without giving anything away, we are treated to a tense and genuinely alarming prologue which sets up the story for the four friends’ hike. Director David Brucker (The Signal) lulls us into a false sense of security before delivering a startling and accomplished opening. From then on The Ritual takes us on a Blair Witch Project styled trek, by way of The Evil Dead and The Wicker Man, through the endlessly forbidding Swedish forest, before changing its mind halfway through and heading off down the path to a more conventional horror movie.
Of the cast, it is ostensibly a four-man show. Taken at face value, they might not register outside of their different personality types – the ‘jack-the-lad’, the complainer, the leader and the level headed one. But Spall, Ali, James-Collier and Troughton ensure they are more than mere horror movie basics. The strained relationships and tensions within the group are the foundation on which the rest of the film is built, as they grapple with guilt, cowardice, and barely supressed blame. We might wonder why they are friends at times, but this only brings a bit more reality to the situation – they’re holding onto the threads of a relationship they have all outgrown, and find themselves in the Swedish countryside out of obligation rather than desire.
Although The Ritual works well overall, it is at its strongest during the first half, where we still don’t know what type of adversary we are up against. Every scene is torqued by the claustrophobic atmosphere of the forest, the tension further ratcheted up by the shared experience of creeping dread and the brittle nature of the group dynamic. In the early stages, the fragile relationship of the four friends does as much to destabilise the situation as the forest. And we get some woodsy freakouts, mysterious night terrors and occult rune sightings thrown into the mix to further unsettle everyone.
It is at this point the film could go a number of ways, and The Ritual is pretty fantastic when it has all this potential ahead of it. Unfortunately, once the unknown horror becomes known, it becomes a bit less interesting and loses the unnerving atmosphere. The Ritual becomes a bit of a smorgasbord of sub-genres once the answers start coming our way, the overabundance of ideas leaving it uncertain of what kind of horror movie it wants to be.
That’s not to say the second half is bad. Far from it. Once the reveal is introduced and other horror aspects come in to play, The Ritual still acquits itself well. Without saying too much, the design on display around here is bonkers. Honestly, points must be handed for just how weird this thing turns out to be. To be fair, the only way to avoid further Blair Witch Project comparisons as the story unfolds was to lift the lid on the forest terror in the second half of the film.
What this all means, ultimately, is that The Ritual is a very solid horror movie, when it could have been great had it maintained the ambiguous, creepy vibe it was cultivating at the start. Nevertheless, The Ritual still delivers some genuinely unsettling moments and fans of rural terror will enjoy getting lost in this movie.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★☆☆
‘The Ritual’ can be seen on Netflix right HERE.