The release of director David Bruckner's feature debut, The Ritual, to Netflix in the US was accompanied by the simultaneous digital release of the score by composer Ben Lovett. Lovett had previously collaborated with Bruckner on the director's segment for 2007's The Signal, entitled Transmission 1: Crazy in Love and the Bruckner described the process of working again with the composer as a situation that was quite perfect, as it was “going into a story about old friends with an old friend.”
The film is about four friends taking a Scandinavian hiking trip to honour the death of their friend in a robbery gone wrong. Due to the injury of one of the party's members, they decide to cut through the woods to save time. As anyone who's ever seen a horror film knows, going off the beaten path into the wilderness never ends well and, of course, a mysterious presence begins stalking the four. From there on, things begin to get eerie and then, terrifying.
Lovett's score can be said to progress in much the same way. It begins with some very lovely aspects, all glistening strings and all, but as the score progresses, the lightness of Lovett's compositions begin to transform into minor keys and pounding - if not menacing - drums. The interesting thing about the score is that the composer could easily have done this as a synthesiser-heavy or EDM-flavoured piece to reflect the laddish behaviour of some of the characters.
Instead, Lovett chooses to translate the traditional sounds of horror, such as piercing or shrieking, along with rumbling, energetic rhythms, and made the synthetic tones into something more acoustic, utilising strings and percussion. The listener will hear thematic elements previously encountered in other horror films and back-country thrillers, but presented in an almost anachronistic manner. Piggyback, especially, is reminiscent of the Dust Brothers' score for Fight Club, working in much the same vein as a piece like Homework, but done with the London Contemporary Orchestra instead of a bank of samplers and keyboards.
Lovett was mindfully very judicious in his use of synthesizers, only bringing them when relating back to the death of their friend - such as in Through The Trees - working instead with the London Contemporary Orchestra, because it was “like being given the power to invent new colours, they really push the boundaries of their instruments and expanded the scope of what I could accomplish on this score,” explained Lovett in the press release.
Latter tracks turn to primitive drumming, reflective of the setting the surviving members of the group find themselves, and when not rhythmically intense, the pieces begin to turn more reflective of what the audience sees on screen, rather than setting the tone for what's just beyond the edge of the light, deep in the dark. Burning House, particularly, presents the amazing sound of an orchestra sounding like a conflagration. It's astonishingly effective.
It does, unfortunately, become slightly monotonous when separated from the film, however. One does wish that the swelling, ominous strings of an early piece like King's Trail would remain a little longer once the score's begun to embrace the drumming and shrieking strings. It's a minor quibble, though, especially when the listener pulls on a pair of headphones and allows themselves to fall into the world Lovett's score creates so evocatively.
THE RITUAL / COMPOSER: BEN LOVETT / LABEL: LAKESHORE RECORDS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW