Apparently none of the characters in “The Ritual,” a new survival flick from director David Bruckner, have ever seen a cabin in the woods horror movie. If so they might have spared themselves a lot of trouble.
Luke (Rafe Spall), Phil (Arsher Ali), Robert (Paul Reid), Dom (Sam Troughton) and Hutch (Robert James-Collier) are best friends on a bender. After a night of drinks they drunkenly decide to take a lad’s vacation.
“Berlin?” “Nein.” “Belgium?” “No one has ever gone to Belgium by choice.”
After some back and forth they decide on The King’s Trail, a hiking trail in northern Sweden. “It’s like the Appalachian Trail but with more history and fewer hillbillies,” they joke.
At the tail end of the night Luke and Rob, not ready to head home, go to a store to buy more booze but walk into a robbery in progress. Rob is killed as Luke hides. Cut to six months later. The remaining friends travel to Sweden to pay homage to their late pal.
After the brief ceremony Dom stumbles, twisting his knee. Unable to navigate the harsh conditions of the King’s Trail the boys decide to go off trail and take a short cut through the forest.
Come nightfall things take a mysterious turn. They find gutted animals hanging in trees, strange symbols carved into the bark and an abandoned cabin in the woods. Anyone who had ever seen a horror movie would know to keep on walking but these guys decide to break in and wait until daylight. “This is clearly the house we get murdered in,” someone jokes.
They survive the night but in the morning everything is different. Luke has a strange, bloody paw print on his chest, Dom and Hutch are traumatized by realistic nightmares and Phil is found, naked, upstairs kneeling before a pagan artefact.
What has happened and what does it have to do with the strange Wicker Man statue in the attic? One by one the friends will find out.
“The Ritual” is a ritualistic horror movie with little to no special effects. It’s just tension, atmosphere and four guys you kind of hope survive. It’s the kind of movie where the characters say things like, “Something is not right here.” Well, duh. There’s gutted animals hanging in trees probably put there by shadowy things that go chomp in the night.
[MILD SPOILERS AHEAD] The obvious stuff aside, “The Ritual” does have an element of psychological horror—the men are troubled by their pal’s violent death—which works better than the actual horror elements. The monstrous creature at the root of all the bloody goings-on is rarely seen so these guys spend a great deal of time running, terrified, from rustling trees. From an audience point of view it’s a little less than horrifying. Things pick up in the last half hour when the movie turns a corner and becomes a Nordic “Deliverance.” There are creepy woodland people and while there’s not quite enough creature to qualify this as a creature feature at least the trees have stopped swishing.
“The Ritual” has some great elements but despite an anxiety-inducing droning soundtrack and a building sense of dread, it is not eerie enough to justify its overlong 95 minutes running time.
Available on Netflix.