Adapted by David Bruckner (The Signal, Southbound) from Adam Nevill’s critically acclaimed novel of the same name, The Ritual is a brilliantly self-aware and a beautifully acted British horror movie. Centring around themes of redemption, guilt and the fear of the unknown, the film delves into our innermost fears and raw emotion to tell a truly terrifying story without ever taking itself too seriously. With an expertly judged tone and at times hilarious dialogue, The Ritual succeeds where many have failed before it, by offering a simple premise with a deeply complex narrative.
After the devastating murder of a member of their close-knit group, four former university friends decide to take a hiking trip in the Swedish wilderness to honour his memory. Luke (Rafe Spall) is still reeling from having witnessed the violent death of his best friend during an off-licence robbery while hiding from the attackers. Feeling guilty about the events, and dejected by how he is perceived by the rest of the group, Luke agrees to make the trip he was dead-set against, in the hope that it might bring him some closure. As the group, which is also made up of Hutch (Robert James-Collier), Phil (Arsher Ali) and Dom (Sam Troughton), make their way through the arduous Swedish wilderness, they have to make a change to their initial plans when Dom falls and hurts his knee in the process.
The seemingly friendly jabs and laddish banter suddenly turn into blame and recrimination when the group find themselves lost deep in the forest unable to find their way out. After a night in an abandoned cabin, the group start to believe that there is something altogether evil haunting their dreams and hunting them in real life. Facing up to his own fears, Luke must find a way to help his friends out of this mess and hopefully start to finally forgive himself for not stepping in to help he murdered friend.
Spall puts in a genuinely impressive turn as a man tortured by his own conscience, while the rest of the cast are equally impressive as the jovial happy-go-lucky lads who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. Troughton in particular does a great job as cocksure spoilt city bod Dom who is all bravado and reprehensible banter until things start to go terribly wrong.
Bruckner, aided by Joe Barton’s brilliantly realistic dialogue, does a fantastic job in highlighting all the right themes, without ever resorting to the facile in order to drive the idea home. Playing with the whole “cabin in the woods” horror genre, mixed with what is generally referred to as “pagan folk horror” a la The Wicker Man, the film manages to install a real sense of unease and genuine terror in its audiences, which is no mean feat.
Like with any other intelligent horror movie, The Ritual is about so much more than scaring its audience senseless. The Ritual manages to push the boundaries by cleverly avoiding the “Conjuring effect” of loud thumps and jump-scares all the while bringing something fresh to the genre. Even of it isn’t likely to set the box office on fire, the film does a good enough job in keeping its audience entertained for 90 minutes or so, and who can ask for more in a mid-budget horror movie.