Usual funny man Rafe Spall detours into horror in director David Bruckner’s The Ritual, splicing part mythodically-aesthetic and The Hangover (gone awry) but maybe loses itself in a forceful third act of drowning symbolisms and a reveal which may just have pushed it one step too far.
After one of their closest friends is brutally murdered as Luke (Spall) watches from afar, the lads pay tribute to their departed amigo by fulfilling his last wish: to hike a bunch of mountains. Vegas would have been a better option, as one of them states after knowlingly stepping foot in their very own horror movie, as the group detour into a foreboding wooded area as things start to feel a little off…
I state that The Ritual may step too far. Knowing Bruckner’s previous work this may be a statement a little off key as his additions to the likes of this decades odes to The Twilight Zone, Southbound and V/H/S, are beyond any resemblance of normal. Whacky, gruesome and ultimately terrifying, writing and directing credits aid to how unnerving The Ritual can be. The setting, however, is of this world; a very tangible and frightening scene sets these lads on a whirlwind of terror without falling into anything overly preposterous. Until the reveal of course which then appears as though it takes multiple nods to Norse mythology – an unexpected but humdrum twist to manipulate in believing this nonsense was anything original.
Beyond the ending, the film itself is rather straightforward as it pits its characters against a familiar evil. No character, however, appears particularly likeable, but it’s not all bad. The Ritual owes itself to Spall’s miserable presence, miserable but real. Amongst other decent acting to parallel that of Spall, director Bruckner squeezes enough out of the eerie setting to alleviate any familiarities you may pair with Blair Witch.
Ultimately a grim tale about monsters, not just the ones physical and storming around a creepy wooded area. A primary effectiveness is definitely down to its cast but The Ritual lacks originality and that missing cog to transition it to anything more than a play by numbers horror/thriller in the woods.
Dir: David Bruckner
Scr: Joe Barton
Cast: Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton
Prd: Jonathan Cavendish, Richard Holmes
Music: Ben Lovett
DOP: Andrew Shulkind
Runtime: 94 minutes