The Ritual review: This wood-based horror is one of the most powerful and most terrifying films of the year.
The Ritual review by Luke Ryan Baldock.
Another autumn is upon us and that means horror films are rolling out as fast as leaves are falling from the trees. So amongst so many scares and jumps about to hit the cinema, why would anybody want to check out The Ritual, a British film that shoves some men into the Swedish woods? It takes from The Wicker-Man, The Descent, The Blair Witch Project, and Deliverance, with a bit of monster movie thrown in – meaning it’s far from original. So why go and see it? Because it’s bloody brilliant and genuinely terrifying.
The Ritual has a lot going for it in its opening scene. Luke (Rafe Spall), and old University buddies discuss an upcoming lads holiday with ideas from Ibiza to hiking in Sweden thrown around. As Luke and Rob (Paul Reid) enter an off-license, they unwittingly disturb a robbery. Luke hides, but Rob finds himself in an altercation which results in him being brutally killed. This whole opening sequence defines the film in many ways. It’s the cowardice of Luke that defines his arc, but one where we totally understand his actions. The sudden violence is shocking, and also contrasts nicely with the later serene Nordic landscapes. This isn’t about the violence of man or the savageness of nature, but a depressing reminder that anywhere can be horrific in the wrong circumstances.
The entire film is a look at masculinity, so shoving a bunch of adult men in their mid-thirties into the woods in roles usually left for promiscuous teenagers really adds to the fear, as these are not people we want to see slaughtered for inventive deaths and gore. They are real friends whose pasts bring both joy and tension to one another. It’s this dramatic focus that powers the film forward and increases the sense of dread. The dialogue between the characters helps to create this sense of long-term friendship, while characters also take on familiar archetypes, while still holding traits from all the other characters. Luke is the every-man coming to terms with his actions and constantly plagued by visions of that night, Hutch (Rob James-Collier) is the self-appointed leader that never becomes bossy nor dictatorial, Dom (Sam Troughton) is the more nervous and whinier of the group, but isn’t annoying or stupid, and Phil (Arsher Ali) is the quppiest of the bunch, while still hitting some dramatic moments too.
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This style of writing from Joe Barton, means that the ensemble work as a cohesive whole. You can connect the dots as to why they are friends, and it’s a true testament to Barton’s skill that this is the first film in ages in which I’ve left knowing all the characters’ names. The film also escalates in a thrilling manner over the course of its run-time. Sure, going off the path, walking through the woods, stumbling upon a deserted house, are all tropes we’ve seen before, yet the film constantly throws out reasons as to why these nonsense decisions are made. Each set piece also never out-stays its welcome, making sure to scare you senseless before moving on.
The Ritual review by Luke Ryan Baldock, Sepember 2017.
The Ritual screened at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, and will be released in UK cinemas on 13th October 2017.