The Ritual movie review: into the woods

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The Ritual green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

A horror movie for grownups, dripping with the dread of a fairy tale of yore, primitive and atavistic, drawing on profound human pain and fear.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): I usually don’t find horror movies scary
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, male protagonist
(learn more about this)

Life lesson from The Ritual: There’s no such thing as a “shortcut” through a deep dark ancient forest. Four British friends, former university pals — Rafe Spall (Swallows and Amazons), Robert James-Collier, Arsher Ali (Doctor Who), and Sam Troughton (Vera Drake) — are on a hiking weekend in a hilly Swedish wilderness when one of them hurts his knee, badly. But cutting through the woods — the lodge is right on the other side, according to their map — turns out to be, er, a really bad idea.

Based on the award-winning novel by Adam Nevill, The Ritual is one of those movies it’s best to know as little about as possible before you sit down with it, the better to let its profoundly disturbing horrors chill you to the bone. Director David Bruckner smartly lets tropes of the genre, the sorts of things a savvy horror fan might snort at, speak plainly, almost quietly, as the depths of their terrors unfold. There’s a spooky cabin in the woods, for instance, because of course there is, and what happens there is all the more shocking for how it represents ordinary human dignity being upended in simple yet unsettling ways. And that’s only a taste of what’s to come.

Ordinary human dignity is upended in simple yet unsettling ways.

Night in the forest, all footsteps and shadows through a veil of the darkness of the trees, is primevally terrifying here; dear god, this movie sports some of the most effective sound design I’ve ever heard. And is there a… creature? monster? something stalking them? (There is. I’m already having nightmares about it.) The dread of The Ritual is like that of a fairy tale of yore (the Grimm ones, not the Disney ones), or one of the classic episodes of The X-Files: primitive and atavistic, drawing on profound human pain and fear. And yet unlike the typical slasher gore or torture porn that passes for “scary” onscreen today, Joe Barton’s terrific and terrifying script also entwines more complicated, more intellectual emotional distress, and does so with shrewd sophistication. Spall’s Luke is haunted by a violent incident months earlier, one that took the life of a fifth friend who would have been with them on this trip, and as his guilt and shame becomes fodder for the evil spirit of the woods, the actor delivers a powerful performance that is moving, occasionally even shattering. It’s way beyond the stuff we ever expect from a horror film, at least one of recent vintage. Horror for grownups! What a nice treat. And an enormously unnerving one.

‘The Ritual’ will debut on Netflix in the US on February 9th, 2018.

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Allan MacInnis
Fri, Oct 13, 2017 5:17am

So does the film overtly riff on the terrific Canadian horror film Rituals? – also about four friends going through an ordeal in the woods, also involving a spooky cabin. Are there beartraps? Bees? Beheadings? Is there a disfigured man with a grudge against doctors? Anything about teaching a monkey how to salute?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Allan MacInnis
Tue, Oct 17, 2017 12:49pm

Nothing along those lines at all.