The Ritual

Studio: Netflix
Directed by David Bruckner

Feb 09, 2018 Web Exclusive
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Rarely does a film open with such effecting and visceral violence as The Ritual. With a groups of lads enjoying some pints and planning their annual guys' trip, the film quickly turns into a horrifying robbery that leaves not only one of our characters dead, but the remaining friends-since-college group riddled with grief. To honour their departed friend Robert (Paul Reid), our group goes hiking in the Scandinavian wilderness. Deciding to take a short cut in the woods leads them to encounter some gruesome, folklore horrors as they try and escape. Backwoods horror is nothing new or ground-breaking, as The Ritual does feel all-too-familiar. However, David Bruckner’s exploration of grief and trauma through Luke (played with absolute brilliance by Rafe Spall) ultimately elevates the typical genre tropes we have become accustomed to.

Luke’s deep pain and exhaustion is almost palpable during the hike and the brief conversations he shares among the group. He is not only emotionally distanced from his friends, but the camera almost always frames him alone or intentionally leaving a gap between him and his three remaining companions. Luke feels alone in his suffering as everyone is constantly reminded of Robert’s absence. His consuming guilt over the death of Robert translates to some of the most visually surreal elements of the film. Flashbacks to Robert’s death add elements of psychological horror and blur the lines between dreamlike curiosity and and a distressing nightmare. As Luke tries to work his way out of the woods, these flashbacks of the convenience store dropped in a natural setting play with our perceptions of reality. Luke is being stalked physically by a Nordic beast and his subconscious haunts him like a disorienting fever. The atmosphere and intense despair of Luke presents some of the most horrifying elements of The Ritual as it’s our choices that haunt us more than monsters.

With the misty mountains and Ben Lovett’s haunting score, cinematography and sound perfectly blend together the pulsating maze and growing dread within the woods. It has the potential to be a pivotal exploration on grief and coping, but never quite lives up to it’s original ambitions. The characters are often interchangable and serve as plot devices for Luke to gain his redemption. Nevertheless as the unease unfolds, Luke’s emotional journey becomes muddled with half-baked ideas and a cult plot that doesn’t quite seem to fit. It’s a jarring and predictable twist that brings Luke’s desolation to an underwhelming conclusion. For some audiences, the monster design will be enough to forgive this gripping lost in the woods thriller turned monster worshiping cult story.

Author rating: 7/10

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Average reader rating: 10/10


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