Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Ritual (2018)

Director: David Bruckner
Notable Cast: Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton, Kerri McLean, Maria Erwolter, Paul Reid, Francesca Mula, Jacob James Beswick

One of the intriguing aspects of the Netflix model for distribution is how sneaky they are with it. They can use it to be a huge gimmick, as they did earlier this year with The Cloverfield Paradox, but more often than not they will drop something spectacular with little fanfare until after the fact. This is exactly how The Ritual came about. Even for horror fans, this film seemingly came out of left field and the resulting word of mouth seemed to power the film well above and beyond what it might have garnered with a theatrical release. Even with that hype, The Ritual lives up to it. It’s a film that’s stripped down to its bones, focusing on the human experience within the context of its world, and takes a slow and meticulous narrative to dig deep into an unnerving experience. It’s wonderfully crafted and very effective. Not to mention, it also features one of the coolest monster designs I’ve seen in years. That’s just icing on the cake though.  

Group think.
With The Ritual, the film takes a consumable and formulaic path for those more familiar with horror. The hiking group, out of their element and isolated, stumbles into a horrific situation while going on a group trip through Sweden. As the situation gets more problematic, tensions rise, things start to go crazy as they stumble on some mysterious buildings and symbols in the woods, and the finale goes off of the rails as they unravel what is happening around them. The formula works here because of the impressive execution of the concept. Well drawn characters, the use of the forested setting to its isolated but suffocating best, and the focused direction that delivers on the tension and atmosphere build an impressive world on top of the formula. Enough so that an audience rarely recognizes the formula underneath it.

The Ritual also uses its emotional core for one of the characters, a man haunted by his choices in the past that lead to the situation that he and his friends are in, to blend into the current horror with nightmarish visual brilliance. It adds to the tension immediately. After the opening sequence, the tension between the characters is only deepened by the events they can’t control. Not only are the emotions threaded through the entire film, but many of the visuals and the stark contrast between memories and current events is inspired. By the time the film twists into a full-on monster flick in the third act, it has laid the groundwork that allows the film go to into more fantastical realms and deliver on heightened senses of reality without feeling like it even needed to go there.

Light, shadows, whatever the hell this thing is. You know. Camping.
For horror fans, the European style of atmosphere and Gothic tones that inhabit a film that mixes a creature feature with a stripped-down Blair Witch (without the found footage structure) is just impressive. It’s brilliantly effective at telling its story and using the narrative formula to maximize its connection with the audience. Netflix may not have made a big hoopla over its release, but the film deserves the word of mouth hype it has accumulated. The Ritual is definitely one of the best horror films of the year.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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