My old scoutmaster used to say ‘If the shortcut was a shortcut, it wouldn’t be called a shortcut, it would be called a route’.
A lads weekend hiking and camping turns into a nightmare when they get lost and encounter a bunch of backwoods hillbillies up to no good. A familiar premise, no? The Ritual is basically The Descent: This Time With Men. We’ve got a group of dudes that have suffered a loss that has eroded relationships and left guilt-scars, and a trip to the wilds to honor their friend that goes disastrously wrong. Or maybe it’s The Blair Witch: Midlife Crisis. So yes, this is bad news first: the script isn’t original; it hits all the beats you expect. Oh hey, the lads need to take a shortcut, and then they get lost, and then they turn on each other. Stunning turns of events, these. The good news: the film is still a compelling, scary watch.
Ulver album covers or shots from The Ritual? You decide.
The cast is uniformly excellent. Lead Rafe Spall exudes grief in every scene he’s in and smokes a lot, which I guess stands in for solid dialog. Director David Bruckner gets great performances from everyone, and the film is gorgeous. Every shot is some kind of black metal album cover artist’s dream – misty mountain forests, decrepit cabins filled with arcane artifacts, and glowing alpine meadows make this film a delight to watch. Without spoiling anything, there’s another bit of design work here that’s truly excellent and strange. If only the script were up to these high standards. I’m not blaming the scriptwriter here – perhaps the problem is in the source novel by Adam Neville? I really don’t know, as I haven’t read it. What’s here is a cleanly written, slight variation of something we’ve already seen many times before. There seems to be an attempt to explore the nature of survival, of being a survivor or coming to terms with the nature of survival, or maybe it’s about finding your inner animal, I really don’t know; it’s all rather murky.
If I sound like I’m really down on The Ritual, I’m not. I really enjoyed it, and I recommend it to everyone looking for a solid horror. I love creepy forests and cabins and ancient rituals. It’s atmospheric as hell, gorgeous, well acted and effectively spooky, it just doesn’t do anything hasn’t been done before.