UK Release Date: 13th October 2017
Runtime: 94 minutes
Director: David Bruckner
Writer: Joe Barton
Starring: Rafe Spall, Rob James-Collier, Sam Troughton, Arsher Ali
Synopsis: A group of men go on a hiking trip through the Scandinavian wilderness in tribute to a dead friend, but soon find things go very wrong for them when they wander off the path and into some terrifying woods that hide a dark secret.
When you think of British horror movies, you probably think of either the light-hearted, knockabout comedy of noughties classic Shaun of the Dead or the pitch-black darkness of something like Ben Wheatley‘s incredibly bleak Kill List. Standing somewhere in between those two approaches is David Bruckner‘s The Ritual, which combines the vibe of an unruly lads’ holiday with the foreboding atmosphere of an imminent mortal threat. It’s an enjoyable film enhanced by well-written characters and a real sense of fun, as well as some smart horror movie set pieces that build their share of tension.
Luke (Rafe Spall) and his group of college friends are trying to plan a getaway together, when one of the group suggests a more adventurous trip hiking in Scandinavian woodland. In an off-licence later that night, that friend is killed during a robbery while Luke hides behind one of the aisles. Six months later, the group decide to go ahead with their friend’s wishes and go hiking, led by outdoorsy alpha male Hutch (Rob James-Collier). It doesn’t take long for hypochondriac Dom (Sam Troughton) to injure himself, leaving Phil (Arsher Ali) to look after him as they decide to take a shortcut through a very scary-looking forest.
The Ritual works as well as it does thanks to the impressive interplay between its characters. The blokey banter feels plausible and it’s easy to believe these men have known each other for a very long time. Joe Barton’s script gives the men plenty of time to interact and work together before the scary stuff starts happening. Thankfully, when the spooky shit begins to hit the fan, the relationship between the men enhances the tension. Barton does a solid job of building engaging characters in just a short period of time, which is essential in sustaining the otherwise rather conventional setup.
The strong writing is helped by believable, natural performances from the central cast members. Rafe Spall uses his established comedy persona to sell the banter side of the equation, while doing an equally impressive job of finding the depth in a character troubled by the actions of his past. The weight of Spall’s character’s decisions on the fateful day that spawned the narrative clearly hangs over all four of the central performers, most obviously in the barely concealed disdain of Sam Troughton. Perhaps the standout, though, is Rob James-Collier – best known, to me at least, as a two-time winner of Sexiest Male at the British Soap Awards – who is impressive as the macho alpha of the group.
Unfortunately, the conventions of the genre requires things to move into more straightforward areas and that’s where The Ritual somewhat flounders. The early horror sequences have an air of ambiguity to them, but things become a lot less convincing when the threat is revealed and it all begins to look a little cheap. It’s a film where the mystery is far more satisfying than the final destination and it does feel as if the story is racing to its conclusion rather than taking the time it needs.
Like many horror films, The Ritual is much better at creating a tone than it is at paying off that tone with a satisfying and scary finale. Fortunately, director David Bruckner is able to do enough work with crafting an array of distinct, memorable characters that he is able to carry off the story, even if the final act loses its way in a mess of poorly-realised visual effects and messy plotting. As British horror movies go, this is an impressive entry. Book your Halloween ticket now.
Pop or Poop?
In a crowded Halloween field, The Ritual is likely to be one of the more impressive entries. Without feeling forced, the film brings the audiences into the lives of its characters and creates believable relationships between them. There’s unfortunately a rather less polished feel to the second half of the movie, especially when the machinations behind the horror begin to become clear.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.