Review: 'The Ritual'
The run of more original films and television series have continued to pour out on the subscription service, Netflix. This has led to Netflix hitting a home run with another original film in David Bruckner's The Ritual. David Bruckner has a short resume but with that short resume he has directed a few good horror films now with V/H/S, Southbound, and now The Ritual. The plot of the film isn't anything new as it follows a group of friends hiking through the woods, only to realize they are not alone. In fact, The Ritual could be heavily compared to The Blair Witch, as the two use a lot of the same scares. Both films in particular make the woods into a character of its own effectively. This adds to the dread and scares. However, the film ended up being filled with solid atmospherics that elevate a concept that isn't all too original thanks to the talents of Bruckner behind the camera. In the end, Bruckner created a well-executed horror story that gifts the audience with plenty requisite scares along with some rather insightful looks at guilt, redemption, and even courage. It has been a difficult year finding a good horror film, but this one might shine above the rest.
The plot follows Luke (Rafe Spall), a man filled with guilt as six months ago, he watched his friend, Robert, get beaten to death. Before Robert passed at a bar hanging out with his friends, he let them know for their yearly getaway to go on a hiking trip in Sarek National Park in Northern Sweden. In order to honor Robert, they go on this hiking trip and the friends decide to cut through nearby woods in order to cut the hike in half. Luke is hesitant to this idea at first, but everyone else insists, especially after Dom (Sam Troughton) hurts his knee. Shortly after entering the woods, the group are appalled and terrified after seeing a bear gutted and hung in a tree. After trekking further through the woods, they begin to encounter more and more terrifying and unexplainable things yet they decide to keep pushing through. Eventually the group come across a mysterious cabin in the woods during a rain storm and decide to rest there. Upon entering they see Nordic symbols carved into trees around the house and even a temple inside the cabin made to worship an ancient deity.
Rafe Spall did a terrific job in the role of Luke as he did have a big arc throughout the film. His cowardice of not helping his friend in the beginning in the end turned to courage as events became more and more terrifying as the film went on. His arc ended up being a high point in the film, and in the hands of a lesser actor, it wouldn't have been as effective. The other cast members were also good in their roles. Robert James-Collier as Hutch was good as the leader of the bunch up until Spall's Luke took over. Hutch was rather earnest, seemingly the best guy and most likeable. Sam Troughton did a good job as Dom who frequently was at odds with Luke, especially over how Luke didn't help their friend before his demise six months before the hike.
David Bruckner is the true star of this terrific horror film, he did a tremendous job filling each scene with so much dread. It is a rather quiet film, which makes the atmosphere of the woods seem so much bigger. This makes the characters themselves seem even more isolated. The use of the Scandinavian setting and the mythology helped add to an even more terrifying film. In order to really make this film work as a horror film, it had to make the environment part of the scare and Bruckner, with his talents behind the camera, end up making the woods and the environment a character of its own. This is easily Bruckner's biggest success as a director. The composer, Ben Lovett, also added to the creepy feeling by creating a wonderful score that worked beautifully with the film. Joe Barton, the screenplay writer, created well-realized characters. While the plot isn't too original, the focus on the characters and Luke's struggle and growth is the true strength of the story.