David Bruckner’s The Ritual follows a small group of adult men who embark on a hiking trip in memory of their recently deceased friend.
The film was originally released on October 13, 2017, in the United Kingdom but later debuted on February 9, 2018, on Netflix.
The following review contains spoilers.
Review of The Ritual
The Ritual opens with the disturbing murder of Robert (Paul Reid), who accompanies his friend, Luke (Rafe Spall), into a liquor store and is brutally assaulted for refusing to comply with a pair of robbers.
After its brief, violent introduction, the film transitions to the wilderness of Sweden, where Robert’s four surviving friends, including a reasonably traumatized Luke, have decided to commemorate him.
From there, however, viewers are subject to a noticeable influx of generic horror content and stereotypical masculinity that severely inhibit its potential to stand out.
Despite the multitude of signs that a shortcut through the woods may not be in their best interest — such as the group’s initial encounter with a large animal impaled by tree branches that’s been left to bleed out, followed by their discovery of a strange, ritualistic figure in an abandoned cabin — they are nearly all determined to move forward.
Consequently, they continue to proceed in the direction of a lethal scenario that’s even more avoidable than the careless murder that motivated their hiking trip.
Although I can understand how one’s rationale may be distorted in the midst of desperation for shelter and other necessities, I find it somewhat difficult to justify their ignorance when confronted with a series of questionable sights that glaringly allude to potential danger.
That being said, the actions of the group, regardless of the director’s intentions, seem almost too absurd to be realistically attributable to anything but reliance on long-exhausted horror tropes.
It’s possible, however, that the group’s near-collective dismissal of the risks associated with their alternative route is the result of one common personality trait among three of the four characters: a blatant inflexibility toward not being viewed as masculine.
This is evidenced during many of the interactions between characters, such as when Luke resorts to punching his already-injured friend, Dom (Sam Troughton), in the face after he’s blamed for Robert’s death and when Hutch (Rob James-Collier) expresses an unwillingness to disclose why he urinated himself in his sleep.
Although the inclusion of this personality trait and the ensuing “masculinity in crisis” was an intentional aspect of The Ritual, I found it to be greatly detrimental to the majority of the film.
Due to their rigid adherence to “masculine” behavior, Luke, Dom, and Hutch come across as [primarily] one-dimensional characters and almost completely overshadow Phil (Arsher Ali), who arguably plays less of a role than Robert.
Moreover, the substantial lack of meaningful character development may result in an inability to adequately distinguish some of the characters from each other in certain instances.
During the scene in which Hutch is missing from the camp, as an example, it wasn’t initially clear to me who or how many people were no longer present.
Potential negative aspects of The Ritual aside, it does have “strong visual elements,” as described by one commenter from The A.V. Club’s review of the film.
Most of its duration occurs at some unknown location in the woods, leaving viewers just as disoriented as the main characters by the seemingly endless labyrinth of trees in every visible direction.
In addition to Bruckner’s success in creating an immersive environment for his audiences, the director also effectively highlights his elaborately designed antagonist toward the end of the film.
During one scene, for example, viewers clearly observe the silhouette of the creature as it hangs one of its many victims in the moderately distant foreground, and a building is eradicated by flames in the background.
Pumpkin Rating and Conclusion
2.5 / 5 Pumpkins
The Ritual may be remembered for its visuals of Sweden’s woods and its distinguished antagonist, but its plot and characters will likely be overlooked by genre regulars.
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Image Reference: Den of Geek