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‘The Ritual’ (review)

Produced by Jonathan Cavendish,
Richard Holmes, Patricia Poienaru
Executive produced by Xavier Marchand,
Andy Serkis, Will Tennant, Phil Robertson
Written by Joe Barton
Based on the novel by Adam Nevill
Directed by David Brucker
Starring Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Paul Reid
Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton

 

At the beginning of this millennium, British horror cinema brought a series of highly memorable offerings to the table. From the heart-stopping terror of The Descent to the hilarious Shaun of the Dead and the suspenseful Dog Soldiers, British horror was very much back on the map after the 90’s had been ruled by the American meta slasher.

With The Ritual, many remarked that the trailer suggested that the tone and theme of the film would be similar to that of The Blair Witch Project.

While the film does indeed feature a small group of individuals who experience increasingly terrifying events after they get lost in a forest littered with strange symbols and objects, The Ritual is fortunately entirely its own entity thanks to the source material penned by Adam Nevill.

The film starts out well by establishing the past events that are weighing down the moods of the quartet of friends as they go on a trip together, creating a strong foundation for the mounting tensions within the group. This generates an undercurrent of intrigue, but it never becomes emotionally manipulative or dull in terms of the character development of Rafe Spall’s traumatized and guilt-ridden Luke, in particular.

While the emphasis certainly is on the character of Luke, the rest of the group still feel more than sufficiently relatable, all playing their part in the group dynamic. Thus, as the horrors unfold, the unpleasantries hit home not only due to the haunting cinematography and skillful editing, but also because the characters feel like real people making real decisions in a deeply unnerving, paranormal situation that somehow manages to suspend the disbelief rather extensively.

As for those who are worried that the visual aspects of the storytelling may be too similar to The Blair Witch Project, rest assured that there is no shaky cam or ambiguously vague pay-off to be unearthed here. Instead, The Ritual takes it time to build its world, managing to maintain its eerie momentum for the first two acts, where the audience is left guessing wildly about what may be responsible for the horrors the protagonists are subjected to.

However, while the first two acts of the film are equally intense and unsettling in terms of both atmosphere and visuals, the third act does lose some steam once the cause of the creepy commotion is revealed. This is not so much due to the reveal being underwhelming or bland as it is anything but, but rather because the film shifts genre gear from horror to survival in a way that leaves you wanting more of what made those first two acts so good.

The Ritual has a simple, but effective mix of horror, humor, mystery and creativity, giving the film its own distinct identity. When it is good, The Ritual serves as a welcome reminder of both the woodland eeriness and banter of Dog Soldiers as well as the devastating isolation and bewilderment of The Descent. Even when it does not quite manage to create those connotations to Neil Marshall’s better work – all the while avoiding being derivative of either film – it is just so plain strange that it manages to keep its audience interested.

 

Verdict: 7 out of 10.

 

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