Released Feb. 9, 2018
Unrated (equivalent to R rating for violence, some gore, and strong language) – 1hr 34min
Directed by David Bruckner
Starring Rafe Spall, Sam Troughton, Arsher Ali
A group of buddies gather every year for an annual bro retreat. This time, they’re on a rigorous hiking trip through the Swedish wilderness to honor the memory of one of their own who was brutally murdered several months earlier – an act to which one of the men was a witness. When an injury complicates their trek, they opt to take a shortcut through the nearby forest instead of remaining on the well-traveled trail – a decision that may kill them all.
The Descent with dudes in the woods isn’t an entirely accurate description, but the similarities are there, as well as some fairly strong Blair Witch vibes. Overall, the concept of city folk venturing blindly into the wild only to encounter something secret, ancient, and sinister places this effort in the often-neglected subgenre of ‘folk horror’.
This is the eagerly anticipated first feature-length effort from director David Bruckner, who made what were arguably the best segments from collaborative movies V/H/S, Southbound, and The Signal. He was originally contracted to re-invent the Friday the 13th franchise before that project went down in flames over a legal feud between its original creators. This seems relevant, considering how much of The Ritual involves people being stalked by a murderous something in the woods. If this is any indication of how the Friday reboot would have gone, Bruckner might have given ol’ Jason Voorhees a worthy reboot, because this movie is pretty damn good.
The Ritual, for what it’s got going on, is a pretty simple and straightforward affair. There’s not tons of subtext, metaphor, or thick narrative, to chew on here, and that’s fine. The movie sets up what we need by giving these guys some depth, providing them with a good reason to be where they are, and then shoving them out into the woods to be hunted like animals. The horror elements are solid yet used with effective restraint to keep the action rising at a satisfactory clip – The Ritual is a notably well-paced movie. It’s not particularly original (although the way in which a previous tragedy is visually incorporated into the peril at hand is pretty neat), but it does a lot of things right.
The acting also deserves some attention. Rafe Spall is noteworthy among the cast here as Luke, a once vibrant and confident man now beaten into chronic depression through survivor guilt and trauma from witnessing and failing to stop the murder of his best friend. The rest of the guys are servicable in their characters, who likewise blame Luke for failing to save their buddy’s life, which provides uncomfortable tension throughout and a statement on the imagined self-assured revisionism of ‘well, if I had been there..” bravado that can, in reality, plague the survivors of such incidents. This might sound as if things border on the melodramatic, but the dynamic there never overwhelms the proceedings.
In all, The Ritual is rather well-done as it is very promising – both as a starring turn from Spall and as a feature debut from Bruckner, whose recently announced follow-up The Night House is worth expecting bigger things from. While The Ritual was good throughout, there really wasn’t anything that could be pointed out as great. That’s more of an observation than a complaint though – I’ll take good.
The Ritual gets a