Gratefully, my girlfriend explained to me the meaning of “being out of the woods” – to get out of danger or a situation of peril, for those of you unfamiliar with the saying – since it really helps to understand the subtext of The Ritual.
This British horror movie came out in England on the 13th of October last year, but only now it’s getting a wide release worldwide thanks to Netflix. First feature-length directorial effort by David Bruckner (who, prior to this, only directed short segments in horror anthologies), The Ritual introduces us to five friends who are planning to go on holiday together. When Luke (Rafe Spall) sees his friend, Robert, being killed by two thieves before his eyes, incapable of helping him out of fear (or cowardice), his life changes completely.
Thus, the remaining four friends embark on a journey on the Swedish mountains to pay homage to Robert’s last wish; however, something doesn’t go as planned and the lot finds itself lost in the woods, where something evil might be lurking in the darkness.
Instead of writing a regular review for The Ritual, I decided to delve into its meaning and message a bit deeper, since I’ve seen the movie twice and, apparently, everybody loves it to pieces.
From here on, this review is going to contain SPOILERS, so skip to the end for my final grade if you haven’t seen the film yet.
SPOILERS – SPOILERS – SPOILERS
Before delving into spoilers’ territory, I’m quickly going through my positives and negatives with The Ritual.
The characters are what keeps this film going: well-rounded and very realistic, the four mates lost in the Swedish woods have an incredible chemistry with one another, which makes for impactful scenes every time they argue with each other. The Ritual should also be studied by other horror directors for what concerns character’s development. Within merely 100 minutes of runtime, our protagonists go through a lot, change and develop accordingly to the situation they’re facing. In other words, they start from point A and get to point B being completely different from the way they were. That applies especially to Luke, whose arc is simply fantastic.
The execution (i.e. the direction) of the movie is also astounding, for the most part. The cinematography, with the advantage of having filmed The Ritual on location, is stunning and the camera work nearly spotless – shaky-cam nowhere to be found. Yet, the “thing” that hunts the guys in the forest is either a monster or a demigod (or a metaphor… more on that later), which turns this film into a creature-feature: contrarily to most of the flicks that belong to this sub-genre, however, The Ritual shows very little of the thing, making great use of the ‘less is more’ technique.
One last (but not least) positive: this flick is rather intense and scary, having the viewer on the edge of their seats for the majority of the runtime. Up until the last few minutes, that is, when the filmmakers decide to fuck up with a horrendous CGI running figure… What the heck, let’s add one more positive: the subtle humour works because it’s sparse and suddenly stops when the protagonists are in a situation of extreme danger.
Although Bruckner does a great job at directing the movie, the script is very flawed and, here I say it, poorly written: our compelling characters sometimes make dumb decision. Sure, the acting helps to suspend your disbelief, but who in the world would keep going in the woods after seeing weird witchcraft shit as opposed to go back to the main track? Who would be so idiotic to sleep in an abandoned cabin in the woods where there’s a burnt body in the upper floor? The list goes on.
Also, towards the end of the movie and after Hutch and Phil (Robert James-Collier and Arsher Ali) died, Luke and Dom are kidnapped by a Swedish community of people who live in these woods and worship the monster/demigod. This would have been an interesting and possibly awesome subplot except… the script doesn’t bother to explain anything about their society and their motivations. Apparently, they just sacrifice tourists not to be killed by the monster. That’s it! I really wish The Ritual would be 30/45 minutes longer in order to delve into these people’s habits and story a lot deeper.
However, The Ritual is not simply a well-executed creature-feature horror flick, but a film with a deeper meaning only a few viewers seemed to have noticed.
Every time the creature attacks, Luke (who can be described as the main character) has visions or nightmares from the night when his friend Robert got killed. He feels guilty and the monster/demigod feeds upon his fears and inadequacies, like a feeling of guilt which puts in peril people around you and your life as well.
The journey through the woods is, in particular, Luke’s journey over his emotions and traits: in order to get out of the damn forest, Luke must defeat his inner demons. At the very end of The Ritual, Luke does that in a powerful scene that shows him screaming back at the creature and scaring it away. Many viewers complained about the grand finale of The Ritual, but I actually found it very potent and impactful because of its meaning.
In fact, as soon as Luke overcomes his sense of guilt, he’s out of the woods, both literally and metaphorically. During the journey, he lost his friends who accused him of cowardice because of what happened to Robert, as well as he physically lost them to the creature which killed them one by one. Finally, the monster/demigod/metaphor rips its victims open, to symbolise that it’s something that tears you apart from the inside. Such as a sense of immense guilt.
In conclusion, I’ve seen The Ritual twice now and I liked it the second time more than the first one: however, I feel like I don’t love it as much as other people do. Perhaps, by the end of the year and upon watching it other times, you’ll find this title in my TOP 10 BEST horror movies of 2018… as for now, this is a good movie that I would strongly recommend but not one I would necessarily consider great.
The Ritual 7.5/10
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My review is also available on IMDb – The Ritual