Reviews: if you go into the woods today… The Ritual
Directed by David Bruckner,
Starring Robert James-Collier, Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Sam Troughton, Maria Erwolter
After a brutal attack in an off-license changes the lives of five friends, leaving one of their circle dead, the remaining friends head out to the wilds of Sweden to hike a trail that the deceased friend had wanted to do. The friend who was closest to him, Rafe Spall, is severely affected by the loss and feels that he could have done more to change the fate of his college friend. During their hike in Sweden one of the friends becomes injured forcing them to change their planned route to their lodge, the new route taking them through a unknown forest.
The walking in the woods horror has been done to death, from the Blair Witch films to Friday the 13th, and every low budget movie in between. What makes The Ritual more imposing, is the creature design, and the performance of Spall. Rafe Spall gives this performance that will leave horror fans wondering why we can’t get this level in the rest of the genre. Very few horror films have someone that can convey the after effects of a brutal attack like Spall and be the fighter of the group.
After the death of his friend, which he carries a huge amount of guilt over, thinking if he had stepped forward to intervene, perhaps he could have saved his friend, he and his other friends head to the mountains of Sweden. There are your typical characters, the strong one, the complainers, and the one who doesn’t fit into any specific form. It does also play into some stereotypes that will annoy you to your back teeth. Like the moment they are walking through the woods and they come across a house, which at least to me, looks exactly like the house at the end of the original Blair Witch film. They decide to go in and that seems to be where everything goes insane. As with many horrors you ask yourself why anyone would do that…
A traditional horror wouldn’t take the time to explore the main characters mental state to the degree that The Ritual does, though, and it is a pleasant take and a fresh hike through the terrain of scaring people. It does this straight from the gate. While true horror fans will find that the clichés are outweighing the possibilities of what could have been, it’s the character development that made this enjoyable for me. The creature design, which you don’t see fully until quite late on in the film, was pretty fresh; you have to study it, and through the film you think we’re going to see some kind of demented Treebeard character from Lord of the Rings.
There could have been a lot more gore, but I’m a blood thirsty lout these days, and we could have experienced more of the nightmarish visions that the characters go through in the film. The brutality of the opening (human on human) attack in the film is never really matched and that was a shame. But you look at a film as a whole, and in doing that I found this a pleasant journey with the friends to a place that none of them bargained for. Their quiet anguish with one another can be felt from the moment they unzip their tents on the mountain. You know they want to talk and fight about the death of their friend and yet the friendship that still exists keeps them from mostly avoiding that conflict. The Ritual is a good horror film, with a splendid performance by Spall, a cool creature to stalk the cast, and enough good that you can forgive the bad.