Director: David Bruckner
Starring: Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton, Paul Reid
Run Time: 94 mins
2017 has so far been a strong year for horror films. There’s been the widescale success of both Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out and Andres Muschiett’s It. I found a lot to like in Annabelle: Creation and although not appreciated by audiences, I really enjoyed It Comes At Night. I’d argue that these aren’t horror films as such but mother! and Split have some excellent horror elements to them in addition.
The Ritual tries to join this elite group and is a horror film adaptation based on Adam Nevill’s 2011 novel. It’s directed by David Bruckner of whom this is his first feature length film. He has previously co-directed or directed segments of films before such as V/H/S and Southbound. The Ritual tells the story of a group of friends, who following the unfortunate death of one of their core members, go on a hiking holiday in the Swedish woods in memory of his death. After a sequence of events occur, they decide to take a shortcut through a forest which, you guessed, is home to a malevolent presence that wreaks havoc on our unsuspecting protagonists.
The Ritual features a largely unknown cast and crew save for Rafe Spall who is always watchable in whatever he’s in. This could be an ideal film to showcase some new talent and at the same time, work well as a standalone horror film. Can The Ritual deliver?
In some aspects, yes. The Ritual has its fair share of problems such as stupid character decisions, some conventional horror tropes and a cliched ending. That said, I really liked the craft and was always entertained by it. Ultimately, it’s a case of the talent here being better than the narrative. The biggest thing to take away from the film is the new talent that has emerged for the future. Director David Bruckner clearly has a firm grasp of the horror genre and has a strong voice, as do the strong cast and superb cinematography and score.
The chemistry between the group is brilliant and characters that one can emotionally invest in always elevates a film. Rafe Spall is as expected, always strong and Sam Troughton is also probably the other strongest performance out of the group, particularly the differences Spall and Troughton’s characters face between each other. Robert James-Collier’s character acts as the driving force of the group and the voice of reason (or not?) and Arsher Ali’s performance is more subdued and thoughtful.
Bruckner manages to establish a proficient tone for the film and there are moments where the film is genuinely creepy and tastefully gory. Hats off to him for not revealing what is stalking these likeable characters until as late as possible in the film. Coupled with cinematography Andrew Shulkind’s slow zooms and dark imagery and Ben Lovett’s deeply unsettling and moody score, the film feels as though it’s a bit of a mash-up between fimls such as The Witch, The Blair Witch Project, Severance and The Wicker Man. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it does. The film also has genuine heart, particularly due to the development of its characters and their back stories. All of this would seem as if the film shouldn’t work but weirdly enough, it does and I was consistently entertained.
The juxtaposition though between the typically British lads and inner city drinking culture and the dark and gloomy Swedish forest feels a little off. This is especially due to the fact that the film starts off in England and then moves over to Sweden which I think is a misstep – far more effective and maintaining consistency would have been to embed the opening partially into the film to explain why the characters are where they are in the forest in order to establish the stakes better.
It is also a bit of a shame that Bruckner can’t quite avoid genre cliches – characters make stupid decisions, even acknowledging that what they are doing isn’t a good idea but they do it anyway. We have also seen the ending done many a time before but the film is still entertaining enough to not let it hinder it too negatively.
The Ritual overall is a bit of an odd concoction of setting, themes and characters but it all surprisingly sticks and I had a lot of fun with the film. Granted, Bruckner does fall into the trap of cliches and poor character decisions but the way the film is crafted and the quality of the characters outweigh the negatives. It’s going to be interesting to see how this film is generally recieved given the limited release it has seen so far. It’s definitely a film where I had poor expectations walking in and being pleasantly surprised and it can stand up as being another successful horror film of 2017.