Director: David Bruckner
Starring: Rafe Spall, Robert James-Collier and Arsher Ali
Release Date: Out Now
It’s Friday the 13th on the calendar again, a date that simply cannot pass without the movie industry capitalising on its connotations. Cue The Ritual; adapted from a 2011 bestseller by Adam Nevill, it follows a group of friends on a hiking holiday through a dark wood that the Swedish Tourism Board surely won’t approve of.
The film opens with our five protagonists in a pub, plotting a lad’s break away, which aesthetically, right down to the contrived token minority representation and “bantz”, could have passed for a betting/beer commercial. At this early stage, some of the dialogue is already ear grating and sets the tone for how the characters will subsequently fail to be fully developed.
After the pub Luke (Spall) and Robert (Reid) decide to go to an off-license for a night cap but unwittingly stumble upon a robbery in progress. Luke manages to hide from the thieves but his friend Robert is not so fortunate. Luke fearfully remains hidden whilst his companion is beaten to death. His sense of guilt and, more interestingly, his friends’ thoughts about his cowardly actions, permeate the film.
Fast forward some time later and we encounter the remainder of the group on that holiday, hiking in the hills of Sweden. The memory of their deceased friend is toasted before they continue their trek towards a rather ominous looking forest. It’s a dumb move of course, justified by the fact that Dom (Troughton) has injured himself, thus demanding a faster route to get help. Of course, this isn’t going to end well and what transpires is not only a physical manifestation of their nemesis but also a psychological war between themselves.
The film serves up standard B movie scares and clichés, but it’s nothing that audiences haven’t seen before. The comparisons with The Blair Witch Project and Deliverance are unavoidable, with the former particularly plagiarised. This is most evident when the gang choose to stay in abandoned wood cabin, only to discover a strange stick figure in the loft. The shared trauma of the death of their friend, and Luke’s perceived lack of action is carefully explored at first, but these nuances are quickly replaced with by the numbers horror convention.
For low budget thrills, there is definitely a lot worse films out there but perhaps the filmmakers missed an opportunity in not fleshing out an initially promising premise.
Written by Cian O’ Donnell