The Ritual (2017)

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Director: David Bruckner

Stars: Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier

Lads holiday gets ruined by gigantic moose man

You’d think people would’ve got the idea now. Don’t go into the woods! Especially if you’re out in the middle of nowhere, in a Scandinavian country, with only a compass to rely on. The Ritual might not be all that original but it’s a solidly made little film which will certainly appease hungry horror fans who live for watching a group of friends get butchered one by one. It also ends up becoming surprisingly layered and moving, it’s certainly more intelligent than the B-movie exterior it hides behind.

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It’s a premise we’ve all seen before. In fact it’s exactly the kind of formula The Cabin in the Woods was poking fun at, there even happens to be a cabin in the woods, would you believe it! A group of thirtysomething men decide to go on a walking holiday (which is a bit of an oxymoron, but there you go, some people enjoy it) after their friend gets brutally murdered by some crackheads robbing a corner shop. He was the only one who wanted to go on a Scandinavian hiking trip so they all go in tribute to him. Unfortunately, Rafe Spall is now wracked with guilt because he did nothing to help his friend and instead cowardly hid behind an aisle, which is something we’d all probably do if we were put into that godawful situation.

Alone in the gorgeous Swedish outback, one moaning member of the group bruises his ankle so they decide to take a short-cut through some deep woodland which has ‘Blair Witch’ written all over it. They’re not even that phased by a deer hanging on a tree with its guts pouring out, they just want to get some rest in an old creepy cabin which has an even creepier Wicker Man-esque moose/reindeer thing upstairs. The film does an excellent job of building up a sense of foreboding and threat. You know something isn’t  right but you can’t quite work out what’s going on. It’s a film which keeps you guessing right up until the surreal third act.

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Some have said that the film is at its best when it’s hinting at things in the shadows and that’s sort of true, but you’d surely be disappointed if the evil was never revealed. There’s a great sense of friendship with the cast of characters and for a horror film, it’s actually very well-acted. You believe everything which is going on, which is important in a film which gradually gets more and more bonkers as it goes on. It’s also nice to see a more mature British cast in a slasher flick instead of a bunch of whiny Americans. Who would’ve thought Thomas Barrow from Downton Abbey would be under attack in the woods?

Lots of people have expressed dislike towards the ending, but for me that’s when I realised that the film was actually more intelligent than what it’s given credit for. It instead becomes a kind of parable for facing your demons and accepting your faults. Like the creature is symbolic for grief in The Babadook, the one here is also symbolic if you dig deep enough. If you don’t take the ending too literally then you’ll find it to be surprisingly touching and meaningful, it certainly stayed with me after the credits rolled.

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The Ritual is a good example of a supernatural slasher flick albeit not exactly an original one. its high production values are let down by the formulaic screenplay which enables you to predict the direction in which it’s heading. It also bordered on the ridiculous at times, although I do admire films which decide to take a more surreal route. All in all, if you’re a horror fan you’ll find a lot to appreciate in The Ritual. Even though it doesn’t offer much new, there’s certainly worse ways to kill ninety minutes.

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