The Ritual follows a group of friends that go on a camping trip in the Scandinavian forests to honor the death of one of their close friends. As they venture deeper into the forest, they all begin to experience vivid nightmares. The nightmares become reality, as they are stalked by an unknown malevolent force that lurks in the trees.
The Ritual Review
"Netflix Original", if not clear to some, is a murky term. Sometimes it's merely the label given to films that have yet to be fully distributed and Netflix pays for the opportunity to do so stateside. That appears to be the case with The Ritual, which was released in markets overseas last year. But, despite being late to the party, I'm happy I was able to attend nonetheless.
It feels like it's been a while since I've reviewed a film that I thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end, fully appreciating the entertainment, horror and production value in tandem. Thankfully, The Ritual came along, and I can say the relatively short dry spell has ended. I've gotten a little backed up on reviews of recent films, and I was going to do some catch-up with films from last year, but I couldn't pass up on my excitement over this movie.
The film's premise doesn't feel new, and it hardly breaks fresh ground often from a story perspective, but what begins as a traditional "camping trip gone wrong" gradually spirals into something vividly unique and masterfully crafted.
I'm generally not a fan of "ritual/witchcraft" films. They aren't my favorite of the horror genre. I greatly appreciate Blair Witch and The Witch for what they did for horror, but they aren't on the top of my personal list of favorites. This film takes the concepts of those two films and what they tease in visuals and teases you further, but provides visual payoffs that I desperately want.
The visual peripheral and auditory rumbles rule the roost. This film uses both flawlessly to latch your eyes to the screen to catch every glimpse you can of what may be there. And you get the feeling throughout the production, "don't worry, we promise you'll see more." And it fulfills this promise, little by little, and gives us something solely unique.
The performances are fantastic despite the developing of characters that aren't particularly original. We have the traumatized protagonist, his confidant, the doubter and "the rest". Think The Descent in terms of the group dynamic. It's nothing special. But the treatment of their space between each one of them and the visual usage of the trauma reminds me of a better executed treatment of The Windmill. It's essentially a tale of guilt from cowardice and the means to regain courage, and thereby redemption. And the horror is a powerful vehicle to this end.
I don't think I want to give away any more of the story, but this is a film to watch on the biggest screen available amongst your friends in the dark. The forest is haunting, the cinematography perfect at capturing every shadow and crevice in the trunks of the trees. You think you see something. Then you actually see something. But what was it? Was it imaginary? It's like The Barrens on steroids. The subtlety is perfect because continually pays off and sets up for a great finale.
The horror elements themselves are more atmospheric and haunting than blatantly aggressive. Some of the jumps are forced and there are certainly moments of obvious deja vu from other films between the scenes of perfection. None of it is enough to hurt my overall love for this film. It's one of the better films I've seen in recent memory, and I highly recommend it for a fun horror night with a few friends.
Horror Qualifier: 8/10
Horror Quality: 7/10
Film Quality: 8/10