A group of four friends reunite to remember their friend who was killed. They hike into the mountains of Sweden, doing something they know he would have loved. On the way back they decide to take a shortcut through the woods. A storm leaves them stranded overnight in a strange abandoned cabin where they find something that shakes them to the core. The men soon realize they are not alone in these woods.
The Ritual stands out as a fantastic horror film because, despite it being absolutely chilling, it is primarily a character driven film. The inciting incident is the tragic death of a friend. One man blames himself for his friend’s death, and he feels that the others in their group blame him too. The relationships between the four surviving friends are truly fantastic. They all have amazing chemistry, while also maintaining a heightened tension when it comes to who is to blame for the death. As things get worse for them in the woods those tensions only continue to grow. The sometimes volatile relationships between the friends makes for some dramatic and fascinating events when they have to rely on each other in order to survive.
The mythology in this film is dark, mysterious, and very original. Much of it is taken from ancient Norse mythology, and quite a bit the filmmakers created on their own. While some of this mythology will be familiar, the strange altar the friends come across and the entity they encounter in the climax is something entirely new. The filmmakers manage to give audiences something fresh, which is desperately needed on the more mainstream side of horror. The newness of the evil also makes the scares that much more intense as the audience doesn’t know what to expect. The gorgeous cinematography and fantastic score only add to the feeling of dread and fear throughout the film. Watching it somehow makes you feel the unnerving isolation of being lost in the forest, while also making sure you know there is something out there you do not want to meet. The filmmakers also go for the more subtle, buildable scares rather than jump scares. It lends perfectly to the eerie ambience of the film. While this is only the second feature length film directed by David Bruckner, with a few short segments from horror anthologies, he clearly has mastered his craft.
There are several familiar faces in The Ritual, and all of them give outstanding performances. Rafe Spall (Hot Fuzz, Prometheus) has arguably the most powerful performance as the troubled Luke. He clearly blames himself for not coming to the rescue and saving his fallen friend. Spall perfectly conveys Luke’s inner turmoil and why he is even more determined to save his friends in the woods. Asher Ali (The Missing, Doctor Who) plays Phil, who seems to be one of the worst effected when the group stays overnight in the cabin. He feels fear, or at least shows it the most, more than anyone else. Ali does an amazing job of making the audience feel his terror. Hutch is played by Robert James-Collier (Downton Abbey, The Level). Hutch establishes himself early as the leader of the group, and he also often acts as the peacekeeper. James-Collier exudes confidence and determination, even when his character is faced with the worst. Finally, there is Sam Troughton (AVP: Alien vs. Predator, Robin Hood) as Dom. Troughton portrays Dom as a bit of a jerk. He is the most outspoken about blaming Luke for their friend’s death, and he is the most outspoken when it comes to complaining as they all try to find their way out of the woods. Together these four actors create compelling characters who have complicated relationships.
This film has some of the most striking, yet simple, imagery I have seen in a long time. The filmmakers opted for a combination of practical and CGI effects, depending on the scene and the focus. The practical effects are very well done, and they create some of the more subtly disturbing images. The CGI, surprisingly, is what shines in this film. I won’t go into too much detail, because you should truly see it for yourself, but the creature design in this film is absolutely stunning and horrifying all at once. It stands out in my mind as one of the most original and beautiful things I have seen in a horror movie in recent memory. It is the kind of design where every time you see it you notice something new and terrible that you hadn’t noticed before. It is so spectacular it is easy to forget it is CGI. What makes the creature even more powerful is what it represents in the film which is, similar to the creature in The Babadook, guilt and how a person deals with that guilt.
The Ritual is a character-driven film that takes four friends down a sinister and unearthly path. The way the characters are written, and how they are acted, grounds the story as it spirals further away from what we know as real. It has beautiful cinematography and music that only adds to the eerie nature of the film. Then, of course, there is the creature design that is sure to be a highlight for horror fans. Between the acting and the CGI creature, it is difficult to determine what the best aspect of this film is. Whichever you choose, this film is likely to be a favorite horror film this year and beyond.
OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10