2018 | unrated (R equivalent) | starring Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali | directed by David Bruckner | 1hr 34mins |
Studio Pitch: Another lost-in-the-woods horror movie – until it isn’t.
I’ve got a soft spot for 2007’s little cult movie The Signal; so I am always interested in the works of that movie’s 3 directors. Last year Dan Bush made the fun, forgettable haunted heist film The Vault and before that Jacob Gentry dipped into the time loop sub-genre with Syncronicity. But now here comes David Bruckner’s supernatural nature horror film The Ritual and it’s far and away the best of the lot. It’s also one of the better Netflix original horror films out now.
An eerie, fun and visually inventive film that mines guilt, mysterious nature and masculine panic for discomfort. The Ritual starts as one thing and becomes something very different. The way it slowly unspools with each possible turn revealing a surprise that another movie would have stopped and set up camp with for the rest of the story is the film’s biggest joy. A group of five adult male friends gather every year for a backpacking adventure through the Sweedish countryside. I think. One day, one of them is killed in a convenient store robbery while another (Rafe Spall) hides behind a counter and comes away racked with guilt over not intervening. Now the group goes on this trip up the Sweedish hills and down into the forest (sections of this movie are beautiful) to pay tribute to their late friend. Soon they find themselves lost, bickering and wandering into a cabin full of bizarre pagan artifacts that infect them with insane hallucinations. Things go from bad to worse to worse.
It isn’t that Bruckner scratches very deep with the guilty-riddled story, but does find clever ways to weave it back into the story, including a finale that wraps the convenient store and the forest together in a nice visual set piece. The Ritual goes from the doldrums of lost-in-the-woods movie of The Forest or Backcountry to my favorite of horror movie villains – the fanatical cult. There may or may not be a supernatural danger in the woods – a danger that leaves some of our characters horrifically filleted high in the trees – but that a group of woodland people who may or may not be witches believe there is, is enough to create some terror of a group gone mad. Bruckner does plunge into a deeply unsettling thing: the masculine fear of not just dying – men heroically sacrificing their lives to save the group all the time in movies – but dying in a pointless, humiliating and powerless way. There is nothing heroic here and that’s what strikes a nerve.
The Ritual is a great-looking, effectively creepy horror film with a rollicking genre spirit to boot. There is a lot of indie junk streaming on Netflix, but Bruckner approaches this with a crowd-pleasing eye and without a hint of self importance. It ends quite abruptly and won’t exactly chill you to the bone. But like a Pascal Laugier movie, the fun here is the ever unfolding turns of the story and not the final destination. Definitely worth a look.