Directed by David Bruckner (V/H/S & The Signal)
Starring Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Rober James-Collier
This movie is about two kinds of rituals; the kind where a group of friends travel somewhere together once a year and the other kind of ritual, you know, the kind that ends with people being gutted and impaled by tree branches.
The Ritual is another solid addition to the new wave of neo-horror films that have experienced a renaissance as of late. Much of this increase in quality may be some sort of answer to the big budget spectacles that dominate the box office, however, I think the biggest reason is quite simple: Netflix.
While there are all kinds of streaming services available today, it is Netflix that seems to be the one giving these filmmakers the opportunity, creative freedom, and sometimes simply the distribution to produce the types of films that Hollywood has left on the shelf for over a decade.
This new wave of horror is characterized by its lack of dependence on gore and jump scares and increased use of skillfully crafted tension building. It is a form of horror that pays homage to the great films of the 60s and 70s; Rosemary’s Baby, Alien, Psycho, etc.
The first question people often ask me after watching a horror film is, “How scary was it?” This movie was scary, scary enough to satisfy fans of the genre, but not so scary that your casual horror fan can’t handle it. The Ritual’s most haunting scenes happen during the middle third of the film, as the hiking trip begins devolving into a supernaturally influenced series of physiologically torturous events. It’s least scary scenes happen at the end of the film, during the climax, but I will get to that…
The (sometimes quite literally) nightmarish experiences of these four friends during the second act are expertly paced and emphasized through calculated camera-work and an unsettling stringy score. We are constantly shifting between the perspective of our hikers and whatever it is that is watching them, or perhaps, surrounding them. The documentary style hand-held shots used to represent the perspective of our protagonists allows us to better feel their anxiety and disorientation while the steady, slow zooming, panning, twisting, tilting wide shots used as a skillful transition between scenes and locations place us in the ominous shoes of the entity following them through the woods and gives life to the forest they find themselves lost in.
For me, the movie lost some of its impact at the very end. While I won’t go as far as to say it was poorly done or ruined the movie in any significant way, the appearance of the monster you wait patiently for throughout is somewhat disappointing. I can understand that this is a challenge — as a director, you want to give your audience a payoff and allow them to get a good look at the monster they have been waiting to see, but at the same time, we all know nothing is scarier than what our own minds can imagine. This catch 22, wanting to give the audience a payoff yet keep them scared of the monster lurking in the shadows, is the reason The Blair Witch Project is both unsatisfying and unsettling.
In a way, this movie is (a much more polished version of) The Blair Witch Project meets Jaws. It is a very effective tension building supernatural thriller for most of it’s run time that by the end becomes a slightly less effective “Monster in the House” survival film.