When will film characters learn never to walk through a dark forest?!
After having abandoned his friend, leaving him to be killed in a convenience store robbery, Luke (Rafe Spall) and his other friends go on a hiking excursion in Northern Sweden, to honour the memory of their fallen friend, but when one of them injuries their leg, the group decides to cut through a forest in order to save time. Taking shelter from the rain, the group spend a night in an abandoned shack, discovering strange symbols and an upstairs shrine, suggesting witchcraft, and quickly find themselves plagued by intense nightmares, coming to suspect that they are being hunted by a malevolent, supernatural force.
The Ritual, quite rightly, only has four or five main characters so it’s never overcrowded and the main actors have a nice rapport going on. Initially set up to be the loud, obnoxious, boorish one, Rafe Spall’s character, dealing with the prior traumatic events, is a haunted man and quite quickly becomes a rather supportive protagonist as he is often the voice of reason and learns to take responsibility for his friends’ safety; Luke will probably never be the most memorable horror movie protagonist but Rafe Spall’s performance has plenty of layers and he carries the film very well. Rob James-Collier’s Hutch is, by default, the loudmouth one as he takes on the mantle of team leader and rattles off a few snarky comments, while later on proving to be a reliable companion as he navigates the group through the forest and tries to keep the peace when tension erupts. And rounding off the quartet, Sam Troughton and Arsher Ali are perfectly fine as Dom and Phil, respectively. Overall, the film has a fine central quartet and they play off each other quite well and are able to have a laugh now and then.
The Ritual is a decently made film and the foreboding forest environment is used to a satisfyingly chilling effect, always with the promise of danger lurking around the next tree and that oh-so-ominous fog slowly rolling in; production design is of a fine standard, the forest is suitably ominous and there are plenty of film-worthy, cinematic vistas throughout. There are also a couple of “grace notes”, certain moments of beauty to be found in amongst the horror, most noticeably when Luke looks over the trees and sees that the end is in sight and later, for a brief moment, when light calmly shines through gaps in the doorway. It’s a minor part of the film to notice but The Ritual does seem to take pride in its cinematography in moments like these and, with the accompanying music, provides some tranquility to counterbalance the terror.
The film manages to get properly creepy at times but ultimately, it’s pretty much exactly the kind of film you’d expect about a group of guys who get lost in the woods and there are no real game changing elements to be found, just the expected supernatural creature lurking around, some unexplained symbols, nightmares, rituals and witchcraft. But perhaps The Ritual does stand out a little bit due to Rafe Spall’s character carrying round a heavy burden, which comes into play in the finale and provides some welcome character development that proves that it’s a cut above the lazier horror films that are on offer these days. The central “mystery” is intriguing enough, never hackneyed or clichéd, and The Ritual also has enough humour to lighten the mood and it’s very well placed within the film, using a few expletives and self-referential quips to keep things interesting.
All in all, the word that I keep coming back to is “decent”. There’s nothing bad about The Ritual, except maybe the fact that it outstays its welcome after a while, and it’s a good film to watch once, there’s plenty of interesting stuff going on, but it doesn’t “reinvent the wheel” (always good when I get a chance to say that!) as it doesn’t offer anything new to the horror genre and isn’t exactly amazing.
They definitely should’ve gone to Vegas.