Out of all the relatively low-budget movies, I usually check out the horror ones first and The Ritual was a good choice. Mostly because I have watched so many great ones in the past and depending on the story and dedication of the film-makers, they can make wonders with only a couple of million. Based on a novel written by Adam Nevill, The Ritual is one of those movies that slowly gets under your skin. It follows a couple of friends on their hiking trip in Sweden after a rather unfortunate incident. As you probably guessed, they’re in for quite a ride or should I say hike. Usually, horror movies start off with a great setup and then slowly disintegrate in the final act but this was not the case here.
While I found the slow pace and somewhat clumsy acting and editing in the first part of the movie a bit dull, as it progressed it showed more and more of its quality. The atmosphere began to become darker and darker, slowly delving into something really frightening and uneasy. Most of the reviews actually praise the character development and don’t care for the ending, but in my case, the situation was the opposite. Starring experienced British actors, this is more of a psychological horror that explores themes of friendship and loss until it finally reveals its magnificently ugly head. Its best quality is the feeling of authenticity in this saturated genre along with a distinctly moody atmosphere.
Six months after a horrible incident, four friends decide to go to Sweden to hike a trail called Kungsleden or King’s Trail. They were looking to do something different and not spend their vacations in sunny Spain or just drinking in local pubs. However, this hike will prove to be much more challenging than they initially thought…
Being based on a book, The Ritual boasts well-developed characters that seem real and flawed, without the usual “American” setup of a group leader and other formulaic roles. This ups the ante and the empathy, especially for our main character Luke. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, so I will refrain from going into detail about the events in the forests of Sweden, but I have to say that this was a nice twist to the whole story. They are present throughout the movie, carefully adding more tension and speeding up the pacing that was the most problematic element for me.
There’s no abundance of gore but it’s still present, more like a gruesome friend to psychological and mindfuck games that are going on. With a story being set in beautiful and somewhat frightening forests and misty mountains, the cinematography was great and helped set the mood. And although they were almost never in closed environments, the feeling of claustrophobia was real. It reminded me of a couple of similar, moody and “authentic” horror movies The VVitch, Hereditary and The Hallow, so if you’re up for more of the same, you should check them out.
In the end, The Ritual is a refreshing entry into the “getting lost in the forest” sub-genre of horror movies, with a decent story and great atmosphere. With a run-time of under ninety minutes, it’s short and sweet, especially if you’ve already seen all the classics and are about to watch something familiar for the umptieth time.
Director: David Bruckner
Writers: Joe Barton, Adam Nevill
Cast: Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton, Paul Reid, Maria Erwolter
Fun Facts: The sign the hikers see on the trees near the cabin is the last rune of the futhark (ancient Germanic alphabet) called Odal or Othala. It is pronounced ‘o’ and means ‘property’.