The Ritual Review (Film, 2018) #31DaysofHorror
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get into a film. You can acknowledge its merits, appreciate the technical quality of the film, and just get nothing from the overall story. It makes reviewing a film like The Ritual a challenge.
Five men, lifelong friends, leave a pub after planning their next vacation. Luke wants to grab a bottle of something and convinces Rob to join him at a local liquor store. Unfortunately, the store is being robbed. Luke manages to hide, but Rob confronts the muggers head on, refuses to give up his wedding ring, and loses his life for it. Months later, the four surviving friends take the hiking vacation Rob suggested in his honor. Let’s just say there are many reasons why you’re not supposed to leave the designated trail, even if you think you found a clear alternate route.
I’m going to get this out of the way right at the start. I honestly could not relate to any of these characters. The Ritual is a very tough, masculine feeling film and it’s just not something I enjoy sitting through. The four main characters are prone to fits of anger when questioned if they’re tough enough or good leaders, even in jest, and I really don’t relate. I felt the same way about Dog Soldiers when that came out. It’s not a reflection of the quality of the film, but my own response to the characters the film is about. I know men like this. It’s believable behavior and dialogue. I, personally, don’t like being around it. That’s my experience informing my viewing of the film and not a particularly accurate reflection of what the film itself presents.
Technically, The Ritual is very well made. I like the conceit of the supernatural scares layered on top of a survival horror film. The friends take the alternate path in the woods because someone gets injured. They have plenty of supplies, but can only travel so far each day. They stumble upon some mysterious markings in the forest and spend the night in a house with evidence of some bizarre ritual in a bedroom. From there, the friends hear strange growling in the woods before being cast into a realistic nightmare of their worst fears.
Luke, the protagonist, keeps reliving variations on the night Rob was murdered by the muggers. The liquor store reappears with no walls and the floor of the forest surrounding him. His memories can attack, and when they do, he becomes injured himself. Everyone wakes up from that first night with something wrong with them; we just don’t know what the other three saw when they encountered the creatures connected to the rituals.
I have to give special credit to the nighttime scenes in the forest. They are dark, but I can see everything I’m supposed to. With my light sensitivity issues, this is quite rare in horror. There’s just enough of an ambient glow coming from behind the camera to keep the human features and immediate surroundings in focus. Anything you’re really meant to seen is illuminated by powerful flashlights. I imagine this is what The Blair Witch project would look like with steadicam and a professional film crew calling the shots.
While The Ritual is not a great horror film for me, I feel confident recommending it. The concept is great and the technical execution is strong. What bothers me about the characters is my own baggage unrelated to the film, not a failing of the film itself. Even if you can’t relate to the characters, it’s quite scary and very well paced.
The Ritual is currently streaming on Netflix.
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