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The Ritual is one of the best horror movies to hit Netflix in some time. Following the tale of four old college friends who take a hiking trip to Sweden, and who quickly find something strange stalking them through the ancient forests, this film combines elements of human drama, existential dread, and a creature that is utterly unlike anything we've seen in a long time.
If you've seen the film, chances are good the monster is what you remember... even if you aren't quite sure what it was.
Beware, spoilers ahead.
In the beginning of the film, we meet five men named Phil, Dom, Hutch, Luke, and Rob. We quickly find out they've been friends since college, but while most of them have jobs, goals, and some kind of success, Luke is lagging behind his friends. He appears stuck in his college years, more concerned with drinking and partying than with fulfilling experiences, or embracing the fact that he's not a young man anymore. In fact, it's his desire for one more bottle that lands him, and Rob, in the middle of a liquor store robbery. Rob is beaten to death by the robbers, while Luke crouches, paralyzed, unable to help his friend.
To honor their friend, the others go on a hiking trip in Sweden. They walk the King's Trail, and once they reach the end they have a small wake for their friend. Setting up a tiny shrine, drinking, and saying how much they miss him. On their way back, though, Dom falls and injures his knee. Eager to get back to civilization, they all try to take a shortcut by going off the path, and through the woods.
The further they go, the darker things become. They stumble across a ritually impaled animal in a tree, and have to take shelter in a cottage from a rain storm. Something is following them, and after the first night they all have terrible nightmares. Luke wakes up with a strange mark on his chest, as if he'd been stabbed four times. Terrified and strained, they continue on. Bickering erupts, bitterness pouring out as the bonds of friendship are broken, but the creature that's stalking them begins to pick them off one by one. Until Luke and Dom make it to another cottage in the woods...only to be taken prisoner.
Once taken, we begin to realize that Luke was marked by the creature, while Dom was not. We also begin to realize that these people, this cult, worships the monster that marked Luke. The unmarked are offered as sacrifices... sacrifices that are impaled in the trees, just like the beast the friends saw earlier. The creature wants those who have experienced true pain, like Luke, and it gives them a kind of peace... as well as a lifespan far beyond that of a normal human. All they must do is kneel.
When Luke asks what it is, one of its worshipers tells him that they dare not speak its name. But that it is one of the Jotun... a child of Loki.
Who Is It?
In the book that the film is based on, the creature is given a specific name. Modor, it's called. This name might refer to the word mother in old English and old Norse, which lends credence to the idea some have that this creature is related to Shubb-Niggurath, Lovecraft's Black Goat With A Thousand Young. Found Flix talks about this possible explanation.
However, in the film, the creature's name is never given. This deviation from the book (far from the only one, but notable for our purposes) strips away that Lovecraft connection. The creature is a Jotun, and as a thing of giant's blood it is associated with the elements, with nature, and with the wild. It is a child of Loki, which also explains the illusions we see, and its impermanent, shape-shifting nature. However, the creature also appears to be able to move incredibly quickly, and it has mastery over the directions. We also see that it impales its sacrifices, leaving them hanged upon the trees. And, when it reveals itself toward the end, we notice something curious...
The creature appears to have eight legs.
This child of Loki, a monstrous, eight-legged beast, looks a lot like an elk or a reindeer... but it could be ridden like a horse. Especially by another god. And it's possible the little Jotun might be leaving those sacrifices to another... to Odin, the god of the hanged, and the crucified.
Is this monstrous creature Sleipnir, though? Well, not officially, according to the director. In an interview with Collider, Bruckner never calls the creature by name. He refers to it in the most general possible terms, talking about the difficulties of rendering the shape-changing gods of the old world, and about how hard it was to get the unique, memorable appearance they managed.
Could the creature simply be a nameless giant, forgotten from the old world? It could be. But, if that was the case, why name drop his father? Especially when Loki only had four monstrous children... and most of them meet their ends at Ragnarok.
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If you enjoyed this little thought experiment, you might want to check out some of my other work while you're here!
For more horror specific stuff, you can click over to my Horror Media archive for articles like 5 Reasons Jason Voorhees is One of The Greatest Slashers!