Have you ever been lost in the woods before? Or have a friend become haunted by some kind of malevolent entity? No? That’s okay! Netflix has you covered with their new horror flick, “The Ritual.”
“The Ritual” sees its releases quickly following that of “The Cloverfield Paradox,” another recent Netflix foray into horror that did not end too well. Luckily, the former manages to succeed in many areas in which the latter fell flat. Based on Adam Nevill’s novel of the same name, “The Ritual” is brought to life with the talents of the up-and-coming director David Bruckner (“V/H/S”). Bruckner teams up with another new name, Andrew Shulkind, as cinematographer, and their styles blend together well in creating an eerie atmosphere in the Swedish wilderness.
The film opens with a group of college friends meeting up to decide where to take a “boy’s trip” with each other in the near future. Their night takes a turn when Luke, played by Rafe Spall, and Robert, played by Paul Reid, make a last minute stop in a liquor store mid-robbery. Luke hides, but Robert does not survive the encounter, and the boys decide to go on a hiking trip in Sweden as a tribute to their departed friends.
From there, things get ominous as they encounter a series of psychological threats and nightmares, and they begin to realize that they are not alone in the woods. I will not go into details in this review but the ending sequence to this movie, as well as a few set pieces that serve to build tension, are far and away the best parts.
The script is solidly written and the dialogue feels natural, even though the overall narrative feels somewhat trite and conventional for a horror movie at first. The friends feel like actual friends and great performances all around, especially from Spall as Luke, Sam Troughton as Dom and Robert James-Collier as Hutch, make the drama, fear and tension feel real. They feel like real people, despite the fact that they occasionally fail to make the smart decision. Yes, this is a staple of the horror genre, but that does not make it any less frustrating to watch.
The score is well written and the sparse use of misleading jump scares help to set this movie apart from its peers. The sound design overall is impressive and does a good job of establishing the threat that the men face.
Visually, the movie impresses but the scenery is far from new. It is not the first horror movie to use scenic tracking shots of woods with bushes rattling and sounds coming from the deep black surroundings, but this film does it competently and artistically. They help set the eerie tone that the film then uses to explore themes of grief, guilt, masculinity and forgiveness.
These are the parts of the movie that make it worth watching and raise it to a level above an everyday studio horror movie. It uses its horror to try to explore bigger human issues and the use of scares and gore feels necessary to convey those messages, not tacked on for shock factor.
At the end of the day, it is not the best movie I’ve seen in my life — or even this month. But it is solid and competent and takes enough interesting risks that it adds up to a win that Netflix very desperately needs in their movie department at the moment.