Everyone right now is talking about how Netflix shocked the world with their surprise drop of “The Cloverfield Paradox” immediately after the Super Bowl last Sunday, but it indeed cast a large shadow over any of the Netflix releases coming out in the near future. Whether it be their original series “Altered Carbon,” or their new British horror film “The Ritual,” you just aren’t hearing much about them right about now. I watched “The Ritual” at the recommendation of a film friend who is not easily impressed a lot of the times, which signaled it was worth checking out in itself. I didn’t know much about the film, only that it was produced by Andy Serkis, stars Rafe Spall and is directed by “V/H/S” alum David Bruckner. Beyond that, I went into “The Ritual” dry, no research, no trailers, nothing.
And its effect was chilling.
Six months after the tragic death of their friend, Robert (Paul Reid), a group of four friends; Luke (Rafe Spall), Phil (Asher Ali), Hutch (Robert James-Collier) and Dom (Sam Troughton), all go on a hiking trip in Sweden, an idea Robert had for his bachelor party before his death. After Dom hurts his knee hiking, the group decides to travel through the forest to reach their destination quicker and to take strain off of Dom’s knee. When the boys spend the night in an empty cabin, they begin to have their realities tampered with an unknown force that causes disturbing occurrences. As the boys travel along, they soon begin to realize that they’re being hunted by something so much more terrifying than they could’ve ever imagined.
Frankly put: whatever “The Ritual” lacks in originality, it makes up for in terrifying resolve. There are a lot of films in the same vein of “The Ritual,” but not many with the same amount of suspense built up to any sort of satisfying payoff. So many indie films nowadays take a “less is more” approach that often begins to come across as anti-climactic than anything else. “The Ritual,” for all its shortcomings, delivers wonderfully on the promise that it sets up in its premise. This is not a film that obscures the villain for the entirety of the film, nor does it try to stray away from showing anything gruesome or scary, concealment is not a problem in “The Ritual.”
That’s not to say that “The Ritual” is over-the-top or in-your-face, in fact, it’s quite the opposite, the film does take a while to build up and construct from its jarring opening, but a wonderful thing with it is that it leads somewhere. It doesn’t keep you in suspense for so long that it begins to become boring, it reveals what it needs to reveal in the right moment for the optimal level of fear and terror.
Performances are incredibly strong across the board, with Spall really stealing the show as Luke. Spall, son of actor Timothy Spall, has had a few gos in films like “Prometheus,” “I Give It A Year” and “The BFG,” but this is one of the first times Spall has been given a leading role, and he runs with it wonderfully. He’s proven himself to have the power and the heft to carry something heavy like this, which contrasts really nicely with his proclivity for humor in many of his films, too. Supporting characters also all get really great chances to shine among the sheer horror conveyed in the film. It’s a surprisingly emotional film that gives this strained group of friends a lot of really great opportunities to really go out there with their work.
Being a low-budget film, “The Ritual” will never look as good as something like “Alien,” but there’s a certain polish to the film that really does look quite stunning in execution. Shot in 2.00:1, the film hits that sweet spot between grandiose wonder and tight claustrophobia, and the frame really gives DP Andrew Shulkind a lot of chances to really hammer in both looks that the film plays off well. For being such a low-budget horror film, it’s computer generated effects are quite stunning and frightening as well, with a really unique eye for the twisted and out there. Again, with “The Ritual,” you’ve seen this film play out before, but never in the manner that this specific film does.
Directed by David Bruckner, “The Ritual” is a tense, unforgiving film that really is the sequel to “The Blair Witch Project” that we deserve. It’s tense, but provides answers for out questions; terrifying, but isn’t afraid to be funny; frightening, and isn’t afraid to put us in the middle of it all. Best of all, the film is believable. I believe that these men are friends, I believe that their dynamics are how it would play out in real life, and I believed in the dangerous force hunting them down. A horror film doesn’t have to be plausible for it to be believable, and much like the best, “The Ritual” made be believe in it all. That’s how you scare an audience.
“The Ritual” is one of those tense films that works really wonderfully in a dark room, but there is a part of me that wishes the theatrical experience could’ve been had on a film like this. With such a payoff and wonderful horror sequences, it’s the type of film that works with the right crowd. Yet, as Netflix slowly turns to change the theatrical experience as we know it, it’s a realization I’m coming to live with, if not appreciate more.
Now, “The Ritual,” for all its glory, does sort of thematically fall apart near the end. There’s a sharp left turn that I’m still not sure was worth it after all is said and done. It does redeem itself for a finale that is very frightening, but I wish the film had kept its pure forestry terror feel that really made it so scary in the first place. It went a little too far in showing the wizard behind the curtain, and while the magic still may be real, the overall effect hit a major speed bump that never quite hit the glory of the previous 70 minutes.
This being said, that doesn’t change “The Ritual” from being a jarringly scary film with some truly spectacular moments of terror and tension. It’s stunningly shot and wonderfully edited, with a real eye for everything that goes into pulling off the perfect scare for each part of the film. You travel with these characters, you get to know them and grow with them retroactively as pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place. The puzzle might be messed up in its final act, and still might be missing a few pieces come the end credits, but the journey into the puzzle was as startling and effective as any before it, especially by Netflix standards, and as long as a good majority of the puzzle is still there, the missing pieces are irrelevant.
Directed by: David Bruckner
Starring: Rafe Spall, Asher Ali, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton.
Runtime: 94 minutes
Rating: Not rated
Now streaming on Netflix.
Entertainment One presents, an Imaginarium production, an Entertainment One Features production, a Netflix original film, “The Ritual”