The Ritual – Film Review by David Minogue
Director: David Bruckner
Writers: Joe Barton, Adam Nevill (novel)
Stars: Robert James-Collier, Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali
A forest and an isolated cabin located within it has featured as the setting for many horror films to date, including The Evil Dead, The Blair Witch Project and their multitude of spin-offs. The best recent post-modern take on the genre was Drew Goddard’s 2012 film The Cabin in the Woods, which blended intense horror and ironic humour. In all of these films the characters have included a group of younger people of both genders. In David Bruckner’s new film The Ritual, the setting is also within a vast forest and a cabin plays an important part in the story. However, in this film the characters are not a group of teenagers just out of high school but are instead thirty-something male college friends. Based on Adam Nevill’s 2011 horror novel and with a screenplay by Joe Barton, the film’s opening scenes quickly introduces this group of men on a night out in England. One of them is killed during a robbery in an off-license and the remaining four men decide to commemorate him by fulfilling his wish to go to Sweden on a mountain and forest hike.
The first part of the film effectively builds character development so all of the main characters are depicted in a real and likeable way. Of the four men in the group, Luke (Rafe Spall) suffers the most psychological guilt surrounding the death of his friend as he was there when he died. Hutch (Robert James-Collier) is depicted as the person most in control while his friends Dom (Sam Troughton) and Phil (Arsher Ali) joke and bicker as they walk through the mountains. It is Hutch’s suggestion that they take a shorter route through the forest and it is from this point on that the film slowly veers from thriller to horror. The discovery of strange mythical etchings on the trees and an animal carcase suspended high above them all add to the sense that they are not alone in the forest. For the majority of the first half of the film, nothing is really explained so a sense of atmospheric dread is built up. The Ritual is a film that suggests moments from other films, more so than completely copying them, such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Predator and the indie horror Mr Jones.
David Bruckner noted at an interview during the Toronto International Film Festival that the film explores masculinity and male friendships as they age. The Ritual does this well and then builds the horror around these characters. Luke’s guilt isn’t confined to the early scenes and is explored throughout the film. The Ritual was filmed over seven weeks in the Carpathian Mountains in Romania and the cinematography by Andrew Shulkind captures the sense of vastness and entrapment of such a setting. Not every horror film nowadays has the power to scare but The Ritual has some genuinely frightening moments that don’t entirely depend on graphic depictions.