A horror film starring four British men, without a huge budget and chiefly set in the Swedish wilderness doesn’t immediately conjure an image of a superb cinematic experience. But don’t let that preconception fool you, The Ritual is possibly one of the most original, and well-thought out British psychological horror movies in recent memory.
Based on a novel by Adam Nevill, The Ritual tells the story of four friends from university, who years later suffer a tragic loss after a night out, as one of their closest friends is killed after wandering into an ongoing robbery in an off licence. As a result they go through with the holiday they had planned on the night out, hiking in the Swedish wilderness in memory of their fallen friend. However, as the trip goes on,, and tensions rise they begin to see a series of strange and horrifying sights, and begin each having nightmares. Unfortunately, things begin to get very real, very quickly, and they group have to face the horrifying truth of where they are.
The Ritual is a very pleasant surprise. The plot is well laid out, and the characters are both believable and engaging. I very much enjoyed the dynamics of the four men, especially as it echoed the way friendship groups tend to diverge in real life, and the sort of tensions you often see among old friends as they move in different directions. Rafe Spall is especially good as Luke, carrying the burden of guilt over not being able to save his friend during the robbery. Given the film chiefly features the main four characters running around the woods and trying to find their way out, the chemistry of the group is really very important and they get that spot on here.
There is, however, a fifth major character that really makes The Ritual special is the Swedish countryside. The views on the mountainside are breath-taking, but eerie; the woods are naturally creepy and create a sense of foreboding and the wooden cabins are dark and disturbing. This film could easily have been set in the UK, but by having it in Sweden it brings something really special to the table with some phenomenal cinematography.
While many horror movies rely on gore, or jump scares The Ritual does something more unsettling by jumping back-and-forth between dreams and the nightmare-ish situation the characters find themselves in, and despite the early shock in the opening scene it is a slow, smouldering build. The tension mounts throughout the film as the situation gets increasingly bleak before things go nuclear in the final act. The pacing is spot on, and the big reveal does not disappoint. There clearly wasn’t a huge budget available, but director David Bruckner uses that to his advantage to show less of the creepy goings-on around the woods and focus more on sound design and brief glimpses of the evil that the four main characters have to face. It is a masterful way to get around a smaller budget, while still providing something very unsettling.
The Ritual is one of the best horror movies I have seen in some time. It’s unnerving, dark and while it has certain supernatural elements it certainly relies more on what you don’t see then flashy effects or gore. Plus the setting is beautiful, and if it wasn’t such a dark story would be a great advertisement for Swedish tourism. Definitely go out of your way to see The Ritual.
EXTRAS: A series of short (sub two minute) interviews are the only extra on the disc, with all four main stars questioned about the production of the film as well as interviews with the the director and a few crew members Nothing too insightful to be gleaned from these chats, but it's a nice little extra all the same.