The moment Netflix released The Ritual, a 2017 film directed by David Bruckner, back in February of this year, it quickly became acknowledged as one of the first good horror movies in 2018. Holding a 69 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, it's fair to say the movie has received mixed-to-pleasant reviews. I went into this movie not really knowing what it was about, but feeling that it was going to be tiredly similar to The Blair Witch Project. There is definitely no shortage of horror movies that follow a team of people trekking it through the woods, slowly being picked off one by one, and The Ritual is no exception. With deftly acted characters and an all too familiar narrative, what this movie relies on to make it unique and engrossing is stunning visuals, a gut-wrenching tale of guilt and redemption, and one of the most terrifying movie monsters we've seen in a while.
There's something out there...
The Ritual follows four thirty-something lads who reunite after the murder of one of their close friends to embark on a hiking trip through the Scandinavian wilderness. After one of the party members twists his leg in a small ditch, the group decides to take a shortcut through the woods, blind to the evil that lurks within.
What makes this movie stand out from others is that we don't just have humans or monsters hiding in wait: we have both. An unfathomable creature from norse mythology rules the forest, and grants its human worshippers with safety in exchange for live sacrifices. You can imagine this is not good news for our protagonists.
Another thing that makes this movie remarkable is the fact that it actually shows the monster in its entirety, and for long periods of time. This is odd for horror movies, which usually aim to minimize the screen time of the monster.
You're just seeing things...
Another aspect of this film that stuck with me was its visual effects and the way they melded the dream sequences into real life. When Luke wanders off on his own he begins to see things that shouldn't be there. Fluorescent lights appear overhead, shelves lined with various products are suddenly on either side of Luke; he is clearly seeing the convenient store in which his friend died. The transition is seamless, as the worlds slowly collide and both the protagonist and the audience are left wondering which is real.
Now, with a Little More Soul...
The Ritual's stunning visuals and overarching themes of guilt and redemption make up for the deftly portrayed characters. Don't get me wrong, their acting didn't take away from the substance of the movie, but it definitely didn't add anything to it either. I found the most genuinely portrayed character to be Dom, played by Sam Troughton. He is awkward and annoying and paranoid and actually elicits a reaction from the audience.
Luke, on the other hand, played by Rafe Spall, felt underacted and contrived. I kept wanting more from our main protagonist throughout the movie. It wasn't until the very end, when Luke is finally free, that he turns back to the forest from which he has escaped and lets out a gut-wrenching cry. His anguish is palpable, as if his character's arc has been leading up exactly to this moment.