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New Release Review - THE RITUAL

the ritual film review
Lost in the woods on a hiking trip in Sweden, four friends are menaced by a supernatural presence.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: David Bruckner

Starring: Rafe Spall, Robert James-Collier, Arsher Ali, Sam Troughton, Paul Reid

the ritual uk poster


Have you ever watched a horror movie and found yourself shouting at the characters on screen "Have you never seen a horror movie?" just as they make a decision that will guarantee they end up butchered by whatever masked villain, hungry beast or malevolent unseen force happens to be menacing them? Of course you have, and if you watch David Bruckner's The Ritual you'll find yourself facepalming as soon as a character suggests taking a shortcut through the most sinister looking forest in rural Scandinavia.

Like a gender reversal of The Descent, The Ritual sends four male thirtysomething mates off on a hiking trip in Northern Sweden. None of them particularly want to be there - they'd rather be in Amsterdam - but the trip has a special significance. The previous year, their friend Robert (Paul Reid) was murdered after he and Luke (Rafe Spall) had the misfortune of interrupting a liquor store holdup. Honouring their fallen comrade's choice of destination, the remaining quartet, best buds since their college days, slogs across the Nordic tundra, holding a brief ceremony to bid Robert goodbye.

the ritual

The following morning, hypochondriac Dom (Sam Troughton) takes a tumble and suffers a knee injury. The level-headed Alpha of the group, Hutch (Robert James-Collier), suggests they take a shortcut through the aforementioned woods, and as darkness falls, and with it a torrential downpour, the lads take shelter in an abandoned cabin, which is empty save for a disturbing pagan idol made from straw and animal parts. Could it be connected to the ominous symbols carved into the surrounding trees? And what about the gutted elk they stumbled upon, hoisted into the trees, its spilling blood suggesting someone, or something, killed it quite recently?

An American directing a very British horror, Bruckner is clearly influenced by Neil Marshall, but he can't seem to decide if he wants to remake The Descent or Dog Soldiers. Like the former, his film features a protagonist suffering from survivor's guilt, but Spall's Luke is a far more cowardly figure than the tough final girl essayed by Shauna Macdonald in Marshall's female led shocker.

the ritual

It's an intriguing premise, even if we surmise from the off that Luke will inevitably be forced to overcome his cowardice when faced with a greater threat than a couple of smackheads. The trouble is Luke doesn't really have an arc - he seems to have already grown a spine by the time he and his mates arrive in Sweden, so we don't get to see him grow into a warrior fit to take down a mythological Nordic beast.

It doesn't help that Spall, an actor whose wide-eyed, doltish features make him a natural fit for comic roles, is miscast in a movie that resolutely avoids playing its horror for laughs. Or does it? In the final act, it takes a minor turn into Edgar Wright territory, but I'm not sure if that was Bruckner's intention or simply a side effect of casting a leading man who can't pull an expression that doesn't make you laugh. When, in a sticky situation, Luke screams at an antagonist to 'fuck off!', I was genuinely unsure whether I was meant to laugh or not.

the ritual

The Ritual also can't decide if it's a psychological horror or a meat and veg monster movie. There seems to be a Blair Witch type presence in the woods that can influence the psychosomatic state of the film's hapless protagonists, but there's also a very real creature ripping out the intestines of anyone it catches up with. The effect is like two potentially successful horror movies getting in each other's way.

Had Bruckner taken advantage of Spall's comic talents and gone down the Dog Soldiers route, this could have been a future Friday night six-pack and pizza classic. In its current state, it's barely worth watching on a wet Wednesday.

The Ritual is in UK/ROI cinemas October 13th.



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