The Ritual, based on the novel by Adam Nevill, is one of those films that manages to accomplish a lot with very little. Everything about it seems grandiose on paper: set in the breathtaking wilderness of Sweden, four friends attempt to cut their hiking trip in half by taking a “shortcut” through the woods. I swear to God I’ve seen this somewhere before…
Inevitably, things take a turn for the worse. As they adventure deep into the woods, the sun goes down. Then it starts to rain. But good news, everyone! They find an abandoned cabin that’s boarded up and definitely not haunted or filled with snakes or the setting of every horror film ever conceived. Really, it’s no big deal…
EXCEPT FOR THE FRIGGIN’ DEMON ALTAR IN THE ATTIC!
No head? Antler hands? Who invited my first wife? But really, this thing looks like something straight out of season one of True Detective. And as if that wasn’t warning enough, the next day, they discover that literally all the trees surrounding this cabin are covered in ritualistic runes.
Listen up, folks. You don’t need to be able to read runes to know they are a real spooky deal.
Of course, our characters being the intelligent and wise people they are, see the bad omens as a sign to turn around and get the hell out of there. They head out of the woods, back the direction they came, and take the long way round to their destination.
Of course, that’s not what actually happens. But it’s what you’ll be screaming at the TV while these goofballs instead decide to break the fellowship and start running off in every goddamn direction. Sigh. I guess it wouldn’t be a horror film if people were doing the smart thing.
From there, the plot really kicks into gear. Without revealing too much, what we have here is your basic isolation-meets-monster horror film, something akin to John Carpenter’s The Thing. To be clear, The Ritual is nowhere near as good as The Thing, nor does it involve aliens, but it’s safe to say this film is a distant relative within the genre. And that, at the end of the day, is why I enjoyed this movie. It’s actually a pretty simple formula. But it doesn’t succumb to the same pitfalls that a lot of simple horror films do these days: gore, gore, gore, and MOAR gore.
The Ritual manages to keep the plot just interesting enough without having to resort to sensational shock tactics. Never is this truer than in the climax of the film when (gentle spoiler alert) it actually manages to fold in some Norse mythology of all things. It’s a touch out of left field, I’ll admit, but at the same time, not really all that out of place given their location.
The only real issue I suppose is the title. For me, this film was closer to a traditional monster flick than it was a movie about cults and rituals. While it has elements of both, one rings far truer than the other. It could be argued that the real “ritual” in this film is the annual trip that these friends plan, which in turn causes the events seen in this movie. But it still conjures specific imagery, and I imagine a number of people will pass on the film as a result.
Regardless, I recommend The Ritual if you’re looking for a decent movie night pick. At times it’s a bit heavy-handed (the main character’s driving motivation and subsequent arc is nothing if not spoon fed), but it makes up for its sins in good acting, awesome visual effects, and some genuinely tense and spooky moments. Like I said before, what you won’t see here is gratuitous gore in an attempt to carry a bad script.
It is worth noting, however, that unlike most movies, The Ritual doesn’t have me sprinting out to purchase the novel. I’m not sure what else I could glean from the story. Though I might be tempted if it expanded on the Norse mythology angle. If anyone has read it, please let me know what you thought! Hit me up on Goodreads or Instagram.