Do you have a love of the outdoors? Avid hiker, maybe? Kudos. Really, good for you. Oh – you’re a horror fan, too? Even better! Now… may I make a suggestion? Do not watch The Ritual. Just… don’t. Else, you might become a couch potato like yours truly.
The film, released in the UK in October 2017, made its debut to Netflix’s binge-watchers in February. It starts out with five men with a friendship stemming back to their alma mater having a good time over drinks. They get to the topic at hand – choosing the annual adventure they would they be embarking upon this year. They leave the pub and are still discussing possible ventures when one of the guys decides to buy some liquor. While the rest of the group shake their heads, only one friend lends him his company. Tragically, a robbery gone wrong leaves one dead and the other cowering safety behind an aisle not far away.
Fast forward to six months later and the remaining four friends continue with their plan to adventure, though they are somberly one good friend short. Viewers are taken for a vacation themselves along the scaling Swedish wilderness. The scenery is breathtaking, with director David Bruckner’s use of wide angle eye candy shots making us jealous that we aren’t breathing in that clean, fresh air as well.
Early in the film, however, one of the men slips and hurts his leg to the point where he is in need of a trekking pole to lean on. The group realizes that this puts a major damper on their plans to make it to the lodge in a timely fashion, so they decide to cut through a forest (away from the designated hiking path) in order to make up for their slowed pace. Once in the forest, the mood shifts. The soundtrack cries likes a whining, sharpened violin that reminds me intensely of The Witch (2015). Strange symbols appear deep in the woods carved into tree trunks. An odd sighting of a horned animal stashed high in a tree with its belly slashed, yet left uneaten. The group is spooked and deliberates over going back the way which they came, but they ultimately march on until a heavy rainstorm forces them to seek shelter. They count their blessings once they stumble upon an abandoned house. Once inside, they are unable to dismiss that witchcraft is being dealt within their immediate vicinity.
Once asleep, the men each experience frightening nightmares. Hence the movie’s tagline: “Your darkest dream awaits you.” We visit only the dream belonging to the man who watched his friend get murdered inside the liquor store. When the group wakes, they find that each one has suffered something horrendous, from urinating on oneself to kneeling naked and praying to a strange deity.
Peace would not find them again.
The sounds of a scampering giant and rattling howls in the night haunt their days and nights. It doesn’t help that their sense of direction is compromised and rations are dwindling. On top of the worsening situation, they come to know that they are being hunted.
Like The Witch (2015), The Ritual never shows the monster chasing the hikers in full. We catch glimpses here and there, between the trees when it is at its closest but we are kept mostly in the dark.
That is – until the end.
Contributor Paul Tassi of Forbes Magazine claimed that if there was any reason to watch the film, his would be its “rare example of a monster being fully revealed in a movie where it still works once it’s in full view.” I would have to agree with this statement. The CGI creature is impressive, even against human actors. The decision to show the monster in full is a risk for any horror director. Show too much too early in the game of cat and mouse, and there is nothing left to fear. Show too little and there is not enough payoff, leaving viewers unsatisfied.
As I mentioned earlier, I noticed many parallels between The Ritual and The Witch. From the soundtrack to the camera angles and shots, to even plot elements. The slow disappearing act of a secluded group in an unfamiliar setting was almost a homage. Though, I would not go so far as to claim this was Mr. Bruckner’s intention, the similarities are hard to ignore. For these reasons, I would highly recommend The Ritual to any movie goer, let alone horror fan. The beauty of The Ritual is that it is not just a horror movie. Long gone is a genre settling for jump scares. This film keeps this in mind the intelligent horror movie fan, and in turn provides vivid characters, a setting that is as important as character itself, friendships under strain, the human spirit and the literal and symbolic conquering of demons.
Yes, there are similarities between The Witch and The Ritual, but The Ritual holds its own. It is is a ray of of sunlight through the forest in the form of the horror genre continuing to move in the right direction.
So perhaps you shouldn’t heed my earlier advice after all. Even if you’re the outdoorsy type. Go ahead and watch the film. But don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.
-By Christina Persaud
Lindow, John. “Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs.” Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001.
Horror film The Ritual gets a poster and trailer ahead of Netflix release. (2018, January 27). Retrieved from https://www.flickeringmyth.com/2018/01/horror-film-ritual-gets-poster-trailer-ahead-netflix-release/
Jötunn. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ipfs.io/ipfs/QmXoypizjW3WknFiJnKLwHCnL72vedxjQkDDP1mXWo6uco/wiki/Jotunn.html
Tassi, P. (2018, February 13). Netflix’s ‘The Ritual’ Is Worth Watching For One Reason Only. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2018/02/13/netflixs-the-ritual-is-worth-watching-for-one-reason-only/#1731cb80cdce
The Ritual (2017). (2018, February 6). Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5638642/
The Ritual | Netflix Official Site. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.netflix.com/title/80217312
The Witch (2015). (2016, May 14). Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4263482/?ref_=nv_sr_1