Just in time for Halloween comes a British film that’s steeped in the genre’s tropes and harkens back to the folk horror classics of the ‘70s. With the director of the best segment of the first V/H/S film at the helm, hopes were high, but much like the friends whose story we follow, it loses its way somewhat.
Five old friends are getting ready to plan a holiday together. Each has a different idea of what they should be doing with Rob (Paul Reid) pushing for a hiking trip to Sweden. On their way home, Rob and Luke (Spall) nip into an off-licence to keep the booze flowing, but interrupt an in-progress robbery. Hiding behind a shelf, Luke watches helplessly as Rob is beaten and killed. Flash forward a few months and the group has decided to honour Rob’s memory by leaving a memorial on the Swedish hillside. With the weather worsening and Dom (Troughton) having hurt his knee after slipping, they make the ill-advised decision to take a short cut through the woods.
Choosing to spend the night in a deserted shack isn’t the cleverest of ideas, either. Each of them has a distressing nightmare; one of them is even found naked and preying to a strange wooden figure in the loft. If the night terrors weren’t enough, something in the woods is stalking them.
While The Ritual - which is based on an award-winning novel by Adam Nevill - manages to keep the audience’s interest, the familiarity of the scenarios and expectant jump shocks and beats eventually bring it down as we’re faced with a series of illogical decisions and contrived set pieces (not to mention the title being a big fat spoiler). The fact we don’t actual care what happens to the largely obnoxious group is a problem, and the one likeable friend is no doubt set for an unpleasant demise. That’s not to say that it’s a waste of time; the cinematography by Andrew Shulkind makes the most of the stunning scenery and director Bruckner knows how to handle the tension but it’s just a shame that we’ve seen it all before. He wisely keeps the creature mostly hidden from view, but when we do see it, it’s an interesting design that doesn’t altogether make sense, which actually adds to the nightmare situation. It’s just a shame the same old Blair Witch and cabin in the woods ideas are rehashed, as the central premise of guilt, grief, and the handling of trauma in a group of friends is interesting - particularly the very ‘laddish’ ensemble we’re presented with here.
THE RITUAL / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: DAVID BRUCKNER / SCREENPLAY: JOE BARTON / STARRING: RAFE SPALL, ROBERT JAMES-COLLIER, SAM TROUGHTON, ASHER ALI / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 13TH