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3/16/18

THE RITUAL - REVIEW


A Netflix-distributed release, The Ritual is a British horror film about a group of friends who decide to go hiking in Sweden (and soon find more than they bargained for) following the shocking death of one of their friends when a liquor store robbery goes off the rails.

The lost-in-the-woods subgenre of horror movies is one that tends to either surprise (for better or for worse) or fall completely flat. The Ritual aims to be a modern take on The Blair Witch Project crossed with Deliverance as the protagonists encounter strange twig-made structures in the woods then get picked off one by one by an unknown element. The film mercifully doesn't attempt a hand-held shaky-cam style of storytelling: this is a well paced and acted movie with some excellent cinematography throughout, especially near the climax. Some dream sequences give certain scenes a surreal quality but, unfortunately, they fail to add much in the way of substance. And this is probably the film's biggest shortcoming: it has everything it needs to tell a unique, memorable and rewarding story but it never quite gets there. The themes the film touches upon are interesting and so is the mythology behind the mysterious creature lurking in the woods but they are dealt with in an unimaginative way, leaving you on a surprisingly underwhelming note.

There's a good, or even a great film in The Ritual somewhere but it's sadly bogged down by a restrained script that, granted, gives the solid cast some convincing banter, which is rare in horror films, and brings up some good ideas but it runs out of steam pretty quick. We know very little about each character so losing them doesn't have the impact that it should, especially since they all go basically the same way. Our main character, Luke, (Rafe Spall), has a lot going on in his head, one would imagine, and some attempts are, indeed, made to mirror that with the monster's disturbing routine but it's all rather predictable and empty by the end. The design of said monster is compellingly odd and ultimately very creative, which makes for an entertaining third act, even if parts of it are unintentionally amusing and slightly reminiscent of the Wicker Man remake. This is a more effective film, however, predominantly thanks to a strong build up. Ultimately, this is about as good as 2008's Eden Lake but a bit bolder and... not borderline offensive.

While The Ritual isn't quite the unforgettable horror gem it easily could have been, it remains a decent enough Netflix release and it's admittedly better than a lot of films in that genre. But for all its good ideas and slick presentation, it's just not scary or substantial enough to make it a must-see.

Not bad.

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