Review: The Ritual

The Ritual
6 10

PLOT: Following a tragedy, four friends (Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier and Sam Troughton) hike through the Swedish Highlands, where they encounter an ancient evil that will bring their greatest fears to life.

REVIEW: THE RITUAL is something of an event if you’re a fan of up-and-coming horror directors, with it being the solo feature debut of David Bruckner, who previously co-directed THE SIGNAL back in 2007 (a highly underrated film) as well as segments in horror anthologies V/H/S (Amateur Night) and SOUTHBOUND (The Accident).

A Netflix acquisition, this one played TIFF’s Midnight Madness in the fall where it was somewhat overshadowed by BODIED, MOM & DAD, BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 and THE DISASTER ARTIST (damn, what a strong year!). Now making its way to streaming, THE RITUAL should find an appreciative genre audience, even if it’s not quite good enough to rank on the higher-end of modern horror outings in the wake of sleepers like HEREDITARY. THE RITUAL lands squarely in the middle, as it lacks the genius creativity of the best horror but is far superior to mainstream studio fare.

What’s interesting is that THE RITUAL works best when it’s just depicting the relationship between the four guys, all of whom play to a type. There’s “Downton Abbey’s” Robert James-Collier as Hutch, the alpha-male, while Sam Troughton’s Dom is the wimpy one, and Arsher Ali’s Phil is the edgy member of the gang. Finally there’s our lead, Rafe Spall as Luke, a macho man-child who’s in the midst of a crisis. Early on, we see how the swaggering, boastful Luke went to pieces while caught in the crossfire of a liquor store robbery, allowing a fifth member of the gang to get brutally murdered when he wouldn’t give up his wedding ring. Feeling responsible, he takes solace in the guy’s telling him it wasn’t his fault, although you can tell none of them actually believe what they’re saying.

The group dynamic, while clearly based on DELIVERANCE (the king of all “guys on vacation see some shit” movies) is solid, and the actors are – to a man – excellent. Spall is an especially compelling lead, and believably human as the now fragile Luke. It’s hard not to relate to him. Oddly enough, when things get creepy, and they do within fifteen minutes of the start, THE RITUAL becomes a just OK thriller. The guys all wake up after spending a night in a cabin with weird wounds after having suffered vivid dreams. One of them is even naked, covered in his own urine, worshiping a headless pagan god sculpture. Well, we’ve all been there – right???

This brings us to the threat, a kind of pagan cult in the forest that worships a Norse God, with Bruckner eventually going Grand Guignol in the last act, throwing in monsters, cultists and other sorts of fun stuff. It’s all solidly entertaining, but not especially scary on the small screen (theatrically - this might have been a different matter).

As far as these things go, THE RITUAL is solidly middle of the road, with mediocre scares elevated by the cast and gorgeous location photography (tech credits are superb). It’s well-crafted, and Bruckner no doubt has a future in the genre, but it lacks a certain something that keeps it from hitting that top-shelf scare level.

Source: JoBlo.com



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