There have been many genre-defining and innovative horror movies in recent times. Get Out, without a doubt, is one. There was also It. Also, a much low-key, but almost as good Stephen King adaptation, Gerald’s Game, that debuted on Netflix instead of theaters, and transformed a tiresome book into a 100 odd thrilling minutes. The latest horror offering on Netflix, The Ritual, unfortunately, is one of those horror movies that get released every year and are forgotten soon after.
Directed by horror veteran David Bruckner (V/H/S, The Signal), The Ritual is the very definition of a formulaic movie. And that is a shame, for I am a huge fan of Bruckner’s work. This is the first time he has helmed a movie solely, and while there is nothing particularly wrong in this direction, why he even chose to direct this itself is beyond me.
This film, that clocks just over an hour and a half, feels like a mish-mash of multiple and disparate horror movie tropes. The Descent (in the sense that a tragedy looms over the trip to a remote place in both films) and Blair Witch Project (monster or monsters in the woods, albeit without the shakiness) seem to be the top ‘inspirations’ for The Ritual. Both much better movies. You need finesse even when you are doing the same damn thing.
Four middle-aged dudes Luke, Phil, Dom, and Hutch go on a hiking to northern Sweden as a screwed-up tribute to their friend. The said friend was killed in a robbery in a store, while Luke (Rafe Spall) hid and watched. The cowards, and not the meek, shall inherit the earth. The other three are considerate enough to keep their mouth shut during the trip… for a while, anyway. Dom (Sam Troughton) injures his knee, and instead of traversing across the mountains, they decide to go through the woods. And the proverbial “things” begin to happen. There are strange, beastly sounds. A supernatural entity seems to stalk them. They take shelter inside a cottage, in which they come across what looks like a wooden torso. Ooh! Norse witchcraft. Pagan alert. So terrifying. Do not even get me started about the intense bias that accompanies the portrayal of pagan rituals in western cinema.
One extenuating thing about The Ritual is the use of setting. This film uses the gorgeous shots of mountains, valleys in one of the most untarnished places on earth (sometimes called Europe’s last true wilderness) to a great effect. I know woods are necessary for the ghosts to do scary things and chase down our heroes, but I wish they had set most of the film in the mountains. The scenery might have distracted me from otherwise dull film.