The Ritual


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Ritual
"The Ritual isn't just there to scare but to look at what being scared does to people."

If you go down in the woods today you probably won't be very surprised to find yourself stalked by something sinister, at least if you're a keen cinemagoer. Indeed, the stories on which films like this hinge date back into prehistory. Forests have always been liminal places, ripe with resources but not tame like the fields or even the hills. Predators lurked there; in some places, they still do. We tell children walking through them to stick closely to the path. But what should people do when there is no path, or when entering the forest in the first place has taken them off it?

Luke (Rafe Spall), Phil (Arsher Ali), Hutch (Robert James-Collier) and Dom (Sam Troughton) encounter the forest on a hiking trip in Sweden. They go on some kind of holiday together every year, but this year feels a little different because they're also commemorating the loss of a fifth friend, killed during a violent altercation which Luke witnessed but felt powerless to resolve. Not only are they all mourning, the familiar chemistry of the group is askew. Dom seems to be feeling it most acutely. He really doesn't want to be there, and things only get worse when he twists his ankle. Faced with a long slog to reach help, the men decide to enter the forest by way of a short cut. As horror fans will note, that's another bad idea.

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What follows is a descent into primal terror. As night falls and shadows lengthen, blurring into one another, then men begin to hear unsettling things. Great sound design is the standout feature of the film, and it comes into its own as vision fails. A mysterious wooden hut offers some shelter but may not be the sanctuary the men were hoping for. Things go rapidly from bad to worse.

This is familiar territory and audiences may be hesitant to plunge themselves into another horror film that relies on fear of the dark. In that, they have something in common with the characters. These are not hyperemotional teenagers ready to give vent to panic at the slightest hint of spookiness - they're middle aged men who have invested a great deal in how others see them, and their reluctance to show fear initially impairs their ability to respond to the situation, proving less of a strength than it might have seemed. It's this different dynamic that makes the film interesting as it moves into a different kind of horror territory with issues of belief and identity coming to the fore.

Smarter than it may appear on the surface, The Ritual isn't just there to scare but to look at what being scared does to people. It also has its own take on what's going on down in the deep, dark woods, and may make you more inclined to keep to the hills yourself.

Reviewed on: 07 Feb 2018
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A group of ex-university friends take a hiking holiday in Nordic Noir country. Ooo er... (Swedish for "Cripes!")
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Angus Wolfe Murray **

Director: David Bruckner

Writer: Joe Barton, based on the novel by Adam Nevill

Starring: Rafe Spall, Robert James-Collier, Arsher Ali, Sam Troughton, Maria Erwolter, Kerri McLean, Paul Reid, Jacob James Beswick, Francesca Mula

Year: 2017

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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