On Horror Movies: The Ritual

July 7, 2018

I am not really a movie aficionado. I am something of a workaholic (even though I feel I rarely get anything done), and I don't often have a desire to sit down and sink hours into something like TV or movies. However, one thing I do enjoy watching is horror films. I love a good horror movie, and one in particular that I had been wanting to see recently was The Ritual, a Netflix film that came out last year. My fiance recently renewed her subscription to Netflix, so this was a good opportunity to check this film out.

I should alert any readers here that I will talk about the plot of the film in detail below, so consider this a [SPOLER WARNING].

The Ritual is about a group of four men who go on a hiking trip in Sweden to commemorate the recent death of their friend. While out in the wilderness, the men attempt to take a shortcut through a dense forest, and creepiness ensues. After making the questionable decision to stay the night in an abandoned shack filled with Pagan paraphenalia, our heroes become the target of a mysterious woodland monster that hunts them down and picks them off one-by-one. All the while, the main focus character of the foursome, Luke (Rafe Spall) has a recurring dream about the aforementioned friend who died, and about how he could have tried to help him but didn't. As the group members start dying, the survivors find it more difficult to escape from the woods. Eventually, the last two living members of the group, Luke and Dom (Sam Troughton), are captured by a group of Pagans who worship the forest monster that has been hunting the men. The Pagans sacrifice Dom to the monster, and tell Luke that he can become one of them if he bows down to the monster and worships it himself. Instead, Luke escapes from the Pagan village, burns down his captors' hut, and enrages the monster, who in turn slaughters the Pagans itself. The monster pursues Luke to the edge of the forest. After Luke refuses to bow down, he escapes from the woods. The monster doesn't follow him (presumably it cannot leave the forest), and Luke flees back to civilation. Roll credits.

The setting of The Ritual is its strongest point. The empty woods of rural Sweden are extremely unsettling in the way that only empty woods can be. I firmly believe that the primal fear that we humans have for forests makes them the ideal horror setting. Unseen, incomprehensible monsters are scary, but unseen, incomprehensible monsters in the woods really take it up to 11. This movie is pretty strong throughout most of its runtime, mixing the survivalist, fight-or-flight style of horror with some psychological, dream-like fare courtesy of Luke's perspective. The movie keeps the monster mysterious (an absolute must for a good horror film), and the individual characters get fleshed out before their respective demises. It never feels like anyone is just "there to die," that is, that they exist as a cheap way to make the situation seem truly dangerous and frightening. All in all, The Ritual is a solid horror movie that avoids the bad parts of the genre for the most part.

The Ritual is not without some flaws, though. The acting can be uneven from time to time. In some scenes, it was not convincing that the actors were legitimately scared. Additionally, the movie begins to lose steam near the end, when Luke and Dom reach the Pagan village. The Pagans talk about the monster in some detail, describing it as a god that demands worship and sacrifice. As is always the case in horror films, removing the mystery around a monster only serves to make it less scary. Monsters in horror films, whatever form they take, depend on our natural fear of the unknown. No concrete idea can be as scary to us humans as the unknown. Fortunately, the majority of the movie keeps the monster shrouded in secrecy, and the actual design of the creature is interesting and threatening.

I can recommend The Ritual wholeheartedly. It is a good, competent horror film, one of the best I have seen this year. If you like woods-themed horror (as I do), its even better. Check it out if you get the chance. As mentioned before, it is Netflix-only.

I wrote this review almost immediately after watching The Ritual, so this is pretty much my full, unfiltered thoughts on the film. If I do more movie reviews, I will probably try to do them the same way. I hope you enjoy this review. I may do more in the future.