It wasn’t your fault, mate.
Sometimes, films just aren’t what you expect them to be. In some cases, this is down to deliberate trickery on the part of those making it – maybe you went in to see a crime film and ended up watching a full on vampire massacre. Maybe you went to see a cute film about a dog, and ended up bawling your eyes out and never trusting Jennifer Anniston again.
Or maybe something went wonky in the marketing department. Take The Ritual (2017) for example. The trailer, while hinting at the chilling terror present in the actual film, also features virtually all of the dry humour of the film in the two minute compilation. It’s for this reason that I walked into the cinema this evening certain of one thing – that this would be a British comedy horror that will be a great laugh with all me mates!
Yeah, not so much. Watching the trailer in hindsight, I think I may have misread the tone, but I definitely don’t think I was the only one. Still, did it ruin the experience for me?
Nope! I loved it!
So What Happens?
Based on the novel of the same name by Adam Nevill, The Ritual begins as all British films should – in the pub. Ordering up a round of drinks, Luke (Rafe Spall) returns to the table of his mates, made up of Hutch (Rob James-Collier), Dom (Sam Troughton), Phil (Arsher Ali) and Robert (Paul Reid). The group are trying to work out where they should go on holiday together – perhaps Belgium for the beer? Ibiza, because they’re still young at heart, or maybe even hiking somewhere in Sweden?
The group descends into bickering, and eventually they begin to head out. Desperate to not conclude the evening like a bunch of old men, Luke heads into an off licence, joined by Robert. Only when they are inside and deep in conversation about Robert’s insane desire to go hiking in the wilderness do they realise they just walked into danger. Serious danger. Two armed thugs appear from the back door, partway through a robbery. Quick to spot danger, Luke slips off around the corner, leaving Robert dumbstruck.
The attackers threaten Robert, and when he refuses to hand over his wedding ring, is attacked with a steel bat. Terrified, Luke can do nothing but watch as Robert is beaten to the ground in a pool of his own blood. He doesn’t survive.
Six months later and the group are deep in the mountains of Sweden. Honouring Robert’s wishes, the group have decided to go hiking in his honour. Still visibly distraught, Luke quietly follows the group as they march under Hutch’s lead to a dedicated spot to lay a tribute to their good friend. Despite their good intentions, the group are clearly hating every step of the way. As they set off to a remote lodge, Dom curses Sweden and everything about it. Naturally, Sweden bites back, and Dom tumbles into an unexpected hole in the ground, injuring his knee.
Claiming he can’t walk the full journey back, Hutch decides to cut through a large, foreboding forest to reach their destination. Desperate to get back to civilisation and, more importantly, a fully stocked bar, the group are quick to agree – and they descend into the wooded valley. Inside, they discover a eviscerated animal corpse strung up in a tree. Uneasy, but keen to push on, the group continue on their path, but are quickly bogged down in the rough terrain and heavy rain as it swoops in overhead.
Getting desperate, the group stumble on a seemingly abandoned cabin, and break in for cover. Adorned with strange runes, the group discover an uneasy effigy upstairs. Concerned they have stumbled onto something evil and ancient, Luke voices his concerns, but admits that they are better off inside for the night. Only, they aren’t. They really, really aren’t.
Haunted by nightmares of the night Robert died, Luke is disturbed wake up standing and outside the cabin the following morning, his chest torn and bleeding. He hears horrific screams, and rushes back inside to find Hutch tearing himself awake, Dom shaking in the corner and, most disturbing of all, Phil naked and kneeling before the effigy in the loft.
Humiliated, frightened and desperate to leave the forest, the group try to leave on a mysterious new trail that has appeared in the morning light. They want out. What they don’t realise, however, is that something in the woods does not want them to leave so easily. As the group begin to realise they are being stalked by something unseen, panic and tensions rise. Luke’s guilt over Robert’s death is first and foremost, the actions of that night having led them to this situation.
But, as the mystery deepens, will Luke find the strength in himself to move past his traumatic memory? Will he face the evil that stalks them, and will the group survive to tell the tale? One of these questions can safely be answered with a ‘no’. I’ll let you decide which.
They Should Have Gone To
I genuinely really enjoyed The Ritual. Creepy in parts, surreal in others, the story is able to tell a convincing horror movie without ever feeling the need to descend to stereotypes. Visual metaphors and representation of Luke’s fear and guilt are consistent throughout the film, which, to director David Bruckner’s credit, don’t linger too long, nor ruin the pace or atmosphere of the forest itself.
As is typical of a film like this, the mystery – when it is revealed – is a little underwhelming. However, the design and effort put into the short glimpses of evil before we reach this point are very effective, and had me scanning across the whole frame, searching for more shapes and shadows amongst the trees.
I do feel like there could have been a bit more between the group itself, as their dialogue felt a little lacklustre. You only have to listen to a bunch of mates in a social setting to realise that jabs and jokes don’t really let up, even in a stressful situation. But that may be a subjective thing, what was in the movie worked adequately, it just felt like it could have been more. See Sky’s Mad Dogs series starring John Simm for a great example of this working.
So, yeah, it was pretty good. Definitely not what I was expecting, but sometimes this a good thing. I would say that the ending felt a little weak, but really it was all about the journey. One thing’s for sure, if you fancy seeing a group of Brits stamp around a forest in Sweden in a vaguely Blair Witchy way, look no further.
Yours, A P Tyler
P.S. At time of writing, I keep seeing some very strange summaries of this film online. I’ve never really noticed this before… Fistly there’s Google’s summary:
College students are stalked by a malevolent presence in the woods.
A group of college friends reunite for a trip to the forest, but encounter a menacing presence in the woods that’s stalking them.
When was college ever mentioned…? Sorry, I just thought it was odd. Alright. Yeah, whatever. See you later.