Netflix recently dropped The Ritual – a suave British horror movie which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. The film represents a sophistication in style for modern horror, with it’s True-Detective-deer-stag-horn, Blair-Witch-sticks, Wicker-Man aesthetic, and just a dash of Yellow Brick Road (2010).
Indisputably, the most superior aspect of The Ritual is its ability to conjure a terrifying atmosphere, with a monster at its core to challenge John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’. While the film will no doubt have its critics who will pan it for unadventurousness or unoriginality, the film deserves credit for its ability to tell a classic monster-in-the-woods tale, with gusto and joie de vivre.
The film follows the exploits of four mates, who decide to hike through the Scandinavian wilderness after one of them witnesses the brutal murder of their close friend in a bungled convenience store robbery. The relatively unknown, but solid cast of Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier and Sam Troughton demonstrate their talent with some convincing performances.
Director David Bruckner, who directed the Amateur Night segment of the VHS (2012) anthology film, masterfully summons a darkness in the deep, black Nordic forest, which is faithful to the source novel by Adam Nevill, yet creating a unique enough interpretation for Nevill fans to enjoy. I was a fan of the Nevill book, and in spite of the difference in the ending, was surprised by the films ability to conjure the essence of it so well.
The gritty, stark imagery as the characters are haunted by their inner demons, slaughtered deers, sigils carved on trees and other sinister effigies, all the while receiving visions of the ghost of their friend, playing off the character’s guilt and inner turmoil – is captivating. The tension builds perfectly to the traumatic climax.
The film takes an interesting turn towards the end as it begins exploring Norse Mythology; this muddy, Lovecraftian throwback to ancient myth was slightly unbelievable, but nonetheless worked well in creating a well built world and scary environment.
There are some highly memorable scenes, such as the protagonist setting fire to a group of grotesque mummified humans. As a sub-genre in itself, the satanic wood is an overplayed one, running through the history of European storytelling. Still, The Ritual has a unique enough take to make this feel like something fresh, and it reminded me, aesthetically, a lot of a great online story by Reddit user Zyclin called ‘The Deer Gods’.
It’s always refreshing to see Netflix taking gambles on original horror, and if we can expect to see more like this in the future, then Netflix users will definitely be getting their ten dollars a month’s worth.
Whilst being set in Scandinavia, all the shooting actually took place in a dark coniferous forest in the Carpathian mountains of Transylvania.