“…going with the concept of it’s not what you see, it’s what you don’t see, [The Ritual] sustains a fairly decent level of suspense for the most part.”
The Ritual tells the tale of four close friends who find themselves hiking through the hills of Sweden.
Curiously, this is not actually even their idea – far from it in fact – but a trip organised in memoriam, Robert (Paul Reid), a recently departed friend, tragically killed when caught up in the middle of a violent robbery.
Amsterdam, Ibiza and Berlin. These were the more realistic ideas mooted by the collective on an evening when Robert’s suggestion of hiking had gone down like a lead balloon.
Still, here they are, traipsing across the Swedish countryside on a trip that is particularly poignant for Luke (Rafe Spall). He too had been caught up in the robbery, but hidden behind a stack of shelves and frozen with fear, he had failed to summon up the courage to intervene. Consequently, Luke had watched his friend be bludgeoned to death by an assailant armed with a baseball bat.
This level of guilt, and an inner paranoia that his close friends all blame him for Robert’s demise, play heavily upon Luke’s mind.
It’s an interesting back story, and offers The Ritual a little more depth than your average horror / thriller. That said, if this initial premise had in any way mislead you into believing that what was to follow would be high on originality, you are sadly mistaken.
When you boil it all down, The Ritual is a fairly formulaic piece, and it’s therefore no surprise when Dom (Sam Troughton) – the slightly portly moaning one – having twisted his knee during the hike, forces the group to re-think their plans and take a shortcut through rather ominous looking dense woodland.
Now that’s just asking for trouble.
And so it proves to be.
Stumbling upon a freshly gutted moose carcass suspended high up in a tree, and hopelessly lost with no chance of reaching their target destination, the pioneering foursome take refuge from a particularly heavy rainy deluge, in an apparently abandoned wooden hut. Discovering a part moose, part human straw effigy erected in the hut’s loft space does nothing to put anyone’s mind at ease. Regardless, in this instance, in is better than out, and the lads hunker down for the night around the security of a lit stove, vowing to push on out first thing in the morning.
That’s the plan at least, but the morning is going offer all manner of unwelcome surprises…
With obvious influence taken from some of the better horror films of the not so distant past – think Blair Witch, Wrong Turn, The Witch, and The Whicker Man – The Ritual does at least approach things from a cinematically successful angle, and going with the concept of it’s not what you see, it’s what you don’t see, sustains a fairly decent level of suspense for the most part.
However, once the gang finally realise exactly what they’re up against, this tale of hunter and hunted fast descends into an all too familiar state of predictability, and sadly succumbs to the temptation for ‘the big reveal’, diffusing most of the tension that’s been carefully nurtured to this point.
Whilst Hutch (Robert James-Collier), and Phil (Arsher Ali), are portrayed well enough, they are in many ways fairly dispensable characters, and it’s Sam Troughton and in particular, Rafe Spall, that really steal the show, dragging this OK-ish piece through to its conclusion thanks to their all-round Englishness, a generous smattering of dry humour, and a petty disrespect for one another.
At times witty and irreverent, and always leaning heavily on the use of metaphors, it’s hard to dislike this David Bruckner horror, and it’s only fair to say that through excellent casting and some occasionally disturbing set pieces, he’s created a film that’s certainly very watchable; it might even get under your skin a bit, but more likely, will leave its audience just a little underwhelmed.