The Ritual is a horror film (and another Netflix exclusive) based on the book of the same name by Adam Nevill. The Ritual tells the story of four friends who, after a traumatic incident, decide to traverse an isolated Swedish hiking trail for their annual friendship vacation. Things go predictably awry when they decide to take a shortcut back to their lodge through a creepy forest and inadvertently become the prey of a mysterious creature.
The Ritual's mystery, its atmosphere, and the creature are, well, initially (we'll get to this) the best parts of the film. You see, the four protagonists just stumble upon disturbing things in the forest that are creepy. Carvings etched onto trees, mutilated animals, wooden idols in abandoned housing, and other pagan iconography. The tension is ratcheted up incrementally and the film takes its time toying with viewers. The Ritual even plays with the fact that the horror the characters encounter may even be of their own making; a sort of physiological horror, which would have been just delightful. The creature is revealed slowly, but surely. The viewer sees glimpses of it here and there out of focus in the distance, growling menacingly in the darkness, or violently snatching a person into the forest. All of these elements combine to make an unsettling and disturbing atmosphere that works well in the film.
The main cast’s acting is just fine. The only cast member to get a proper arc is Luke (Rafe Spall), the lead, though Sam Troughton does a good job at being the annoying, complaining friend, Dom. They do feel like longtime friends whose relationship has been severely strained. What I really liked about the film, as I touched briefly on above, is Luke's character arc. Luke is a coward, and inadvertently the one who sets the entire chain of events into motion through his impotent inaction at the movie’s beginning. The Ritual teases the viewer on whether the forest itself is malevolent and it's affecting their judgement. Each of the characters is haunted by nightmares, and wake up screaming or in embarrassingly revealing positions. But it's only Luke's nightmare that the viewer sees. Indeed, the camera almost never leaves his perspective. The film, I had hoped, was subverting genre tropes by setting up a payoff where Luke would have to face his cowardice and save one or all of his friends from the creature or would doom them all and fail spectacularly. Neither of these things happened, unfortunately.
The Ritual's positives, though, are tainted irrevocably by its ending, which completely undoes everything good about the movie by ironically living up to and explaining its titular namesake. The film’s creepy atmosphere, the unknown monster stalking them, and Luke's character arc are all ruined by in the film's final thirty minutes. The film goes out of its way to mar its mysterious monster and atmosphere by explaining everything with maybe four or five lines of boring exposition. The monster just looks goofy and silly when you finally do see it, and the revelations are sadly predictable. Luke’s character arc has tons of great setup, yet no satisfying payoff. He's still the same coward from the beginning of the film, concerned only with his own self-preservation and haunted by his own guilt. Nothing he does in the last thirty minutes changes that or comes close to some sort of redemption. I don't want to give any more away about the ending than I need too, suffice to say it's completely cliché and uninspired. Which is a shame, considering that I actually liked the film a lot for its first hour.
The Ritual is so disappointing. I really feel there is a good movie in here and the first hour or so set my expectations for something more. But there was always a nagging doubt in my brain about the film's title and what it actually had to do with the film I was currently watching. The Ritual's downfall is explaining everything that made it an effective and mysterious atmospheric horror, thereby rendering it cliché and mundane. The 'jump scare-loud noise' technique pervasive in contemporary horror is used throughout the movie, but it never felt too gratuitous, and the characters in the film do make several idiotic decisions, but none too glaringly egregious. Ultimately, the film isn't very scary though, which may deter some of the more hardcore horror fanatics. But I've seen much worse. As of February 1, 2018, The Ritual is available on Netflix streaming.
TLDR: The Ritual is a decent atmospheric monster/horror movie that's ruined by its last, clichéd thirty minutes. 3/5 Stars
-Edited By Austin Toner