Adam Nevill’s novel The Ritual is one of the few recent horror books to genuinely scare me as I read it, so when I saw that Netflix had done a film of it I was both excited and nervous. By nervous, I mean incredibly cowardly and watching the trailer through my fingers. However, I summoned up the courage (and by courage, I mean making someone watch it with me) to see it once it premiered on Netflix. Did it live up to my expectations (and by expectations, I mean did it leave me sleeping with the light on)? Both yes and no.
The plot of The Ritual sees four friends on a hiking trip in northern Sweden (it’s the King’s Trail in Sarek National Park---FYI, it looks gorgeous and even the movie’s creepy happenings couldn’t keep me from thinking about how much I’d like to hike there). The hike was supposed to be a bit of a friend’s trip, but is now a memorial trip for the fifth friend—who died in a liquor store robbery. Once on the hike, things begin to go awry, starting with one of the four twisting his knee. They decide to take a shortcut (Or the World’s Biggest No-No if you are in a horror movie) through the forest and soon strange and creepy things begin to happen. These includes symbols carved into trees, an elk gutted and hung up, and the world’s most DON’T STAY IN THERE cabin since the one in The Evil Dead. Of course, things only go downhill from there.
So, let’s start with the good: the film is very capably acted by Rafe Spall (as main character Luke) who brings a weary guilt-filled anguish to his role that goes beyond just his dialogue, I truly believed he was suffering from survivor’s guilt after the death in the liquor store; Robert James-Collier (Thomas from Downton Abbey, in case any of you are trying to figure out where you know him from) who brings a good level of empathy, machismo, and charm to his role as the defacto leader of the friend group; Arsher Ali (who was my favorite part of the adaptation of Arthur and George) brings depth to the underwritten Phil; and Sam Troughton as Dom, doing a solid job with the most stereotypical of the four characters. Despite the characters not having a lot of depth conveyed through backstory or dialogue, the comradery and acting caliber of the four sell them as old friends who the viewer cares about.
Additionally, the cinematography is excellent throughout—using angles and lighting to their maximum potential. The woods drips with eerie bleakness in nearly every scene. And now to my favorite part (warning a minor spoiler ahead!)
The film’s last third is make or break and, in some ways, it manages to do both. One element stays as meh as it was for me in the book (aspects of the ritual itself, as well as the people carrying it out). However, what is truly excellent is the ritual’s monster itself. It’s one of the most creepy and original creature designs I’ve seen in a long time and it downright delighted me.
What about the bad, though? Well, the main thing is that it just isn’t that scary. It’s sometimes a little tense or creepy, but I was never genuinely scared at the going-ons—which meant I never felt the danger of these things for the characters. For being based on a book that made me constantly have to put it down so I could pace out my fear, the film itself never plays up the building tension and dread as it should. I wonder if this is a case of an editing problem, a screenplay problem, or just the fact that a film inherently doesn’t have the ability to scare like a book does (where a reader’s mind can do most of the work in terrifying itself).
That being said, this is a solid horror movie. It doesn’t do anything too new with its story and doesn’t revitalize the “group of friends in danger” trope in the same way that something like The Descent did (and speaking of which that film is a masterclass in portraying grief and guilt as horror, something The Ritual does as well though to less stunning effect). But it’s well filmed, well acted, and never goes for cheap scares or gore. And honestly that’s a lot more than can be said for the majority of recent horror films I can name.
Baseline Assessment: 7/10
Bonuses: +1 for that monster *heart eyes emoji*; +1 for the excellent acting
Penalties: -1 for not being as scary as expected; -1 for not going anywhere I didn't expect
Nerd Coefficient: 7/10 "an enjoyable experience, but not without its flaws"
POSTED BY: Chloe, speculative fiction fan in all forms, monster theorist, and Nerds of a Feather blogger since 2016. Find her on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes