Five University friends meet for a few drinks to reminisce about good times and plan a future guys’ trip to maintain their connection. From that description, this could be any movie from a heartfelt drama to a road trippin’ comedy in the vein of ‘The Hangover’ movies. ‘The Ritual,’ however, is as far from those two movie types as can be. Its beginnings may be mundane but, over the course of the 90-minute runtime, it transforms into a much more sinister story.
After a good old time with the boys at the pub, five friends—Dom, Luke, Hutch, Phil, and Rob— experience a most unexpected tragedy. When Luke and Dom unwittingly stumble into a robbery at the local convenience store and Dom is bludgeoned to death by the criminals, the once easy relationship between the remaining four men is strained to the breaking point. Luke (Rafe Spall) survives the ordeal but not without an extreme case of guilt for his inability to save his friend. Six months later, the four surviving friends honor Dom (and possibly mend their frayed bond) by traveling to Sweden and hiking the Kungsleden trail. Though everything initially seems okay, the tension between the men is unmistakable tension, with much of it centered around the events that led to their friend’s death. When one of the men injures his knee and the four are forced to cut their hike short and attempting a shortcut through the forest off the trail, that previously building tension bubbles over and coincides with some severely weird occurrences. They come across bizarre symbols, animals hung in ritualistic slaughter, and nightmares that leave them with both mental and physical scars, the men realize that something’s not right. When one of theirs goes missing, his screams their only sign to his potential fate, the dread that’s been slowly building since their arrival, the men slowly unravel as they are in the midst of an ominous presence that calls the forest its home.
Though it’s not a found footage film, ‘The Ritual’ has a vibe similar to ‘The Blair Witch Project.’
Unexplained noises, pagan-like symbols, and frightful nightmares are the norm for this type of film but it’s the tone that our protagonists are encroaching on something ancient and sinister is always at the forefront. Like the four friends, we aren’t quite sure if what they’ll eventually discover is something dangerous but mundane—an isolated people that still tend to their superstitions—or something more monstrous and real. While both can offer the same bloody end, there’s a hopelessness when confronted by a thing best left to nightmares and old wives’ tales.
What adds to ‘The Ritual”s appeal is that the first half of the film creates a strong bond between the four characters. Having them affected so profoundly by such a real-world tragedy grounds them and also reminding us that the horrors of watching a friend murdered before your eyes is, sadly, something that occurs on a far too common basis. Luke’s guilt at not acting in time to save his friend has strained this once powerful bond between mates into something held tenuously by their desire to keep Dom’s memory alive. The nightmares serving as a warning that there is a disturbance in the ether and the fraying of the characters’ sanity is finely crafted as the viewer can never really tell what’s waiting along the path for them. More to the point, ‘The Ritual’ gives us a false lead where we think we know what’s going on but, in truth, we aren’t prepared for what comes next.
Based off Adam Nevill’s2011 novel of the same name, ‘The Ritual’ is a well-crafted narrative that seamlessly blends the everyday terrors of society with the rural systems of belief that hold to the old ways and the tangible horror that maybe, just maybe there are ancient things that still prowl the less settled places in the world. As it stands, The Ritual is a welcome addition to the horror genre and is a reminder that Netflix is able to deliver fresh original movies.
The Ritual –Netflix Original
7.5 out of 10