Netflix actually putting out a decent original film? Unheard of.
The Ritual is a new Netflix-original film — which, if you haven’t been keeping track, isn’t necessarily a great omen with Bright and The Cloverfield Paradox (seriously, if Netflix is about to go toe-to-toe with a Disney streaming service, their going to have to get to work on this).
The Ritual, however, isn’t a bad place to start on that aspect. For the first time in basically forever, we have a Netflix film that is actually worth watching and talking about.
From director David Bruckner (who has done some segments in anthology horror movies like V/H/S and Southbound, but this is his big breakout), The Ritual takes place in Sarek National Park, Sweden, as four friends — Luke (Rafe Spall), Phil (Asher Ali), Hutch (Robert James-Collier) and Dom (Sam Troughton) — struggle to cope with the loss of the fifth member of their group.
Six months ago, while vacationing in some European country (don’t ask me how these guys to afford to travel to all these places together, while still having families and jobs), Robert (Paul Reid) met the wrong end of a shotgun when he accidentally walked in on an armed robbery. It has been tough to deal with for all of them — especially Luke, who holds himself personally responsible for not intervening when he had a chance.
So, in order to commemorate their friend, they decide to head out to the wilderness and do some hiking — something Rob would have loved, despite the rest of them being pretty lukewarm about staying in tents away from civilization.
Sleeping on twigs turns out to be the least of their problems, however, when they awaken something hiding in the woods. After venturing out too far and getting lost, the quartet stumbles upon an old, abandoned cabin that contains some kind of evil.
Some kind of evil that is now hunting them and won’t rest until their all dead.
It’s a premise we’ve seen before. The Ritual is in the same vein as The Blair Witch Project (there’s a couple of direct homages, even), Evil Dead and a hundred other horror movies that take place in the woods.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, though. The woods can be a downright terrifying place when portrayed in horror movies, and Bruckner wisely mines some of those scares for all that they’re worth. While there’s a few jump-scares now and then, The Ritual relies on creepy atmosphere and creature fun to get under your skin — something it winds up doing pretty well, especially in the first half of the movie (there’s one scene, right after they wake up for the first nightmare sequence, that actually creeped me out so much I had to get up and turn an additional lamp on).
There’s also a good amount of mythology that’s thrown into The Ritual, enough to keep you guessing for a large chunk of the movie. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a horror movie where a bunch of stuff happens that, plot-wise, doesn’t make sense whatsoever and you’re just supposed to accept it because it’s “spooky.” The Ritual, instead, has a lot of questions that it sets up earlier on in the movie, and then eventually answers all of them in a pretty satisfying way.
The problem with The Ritual comes from the script. Just after the halfway point I began to put the pieces together of what was going on, at which point the movie begins to lose steam. It picks it up in the final ten minutes or so (there’s another great scare involving some fire), but The Ritual shows its hands a bit too early, which then takes away a lot of the suspense.
I’m also not head-over-heels in love with the characters as well. They rely on some standard horror clichés for their personality — the guy who doesn’t believe any of this is real, the one who is kind of a bully, etc.
The movie also heavily relies on the plot-device of Rob, as Luke is confronted about his death in nearly every other scene. While I appreciate the attempt to add some more emotional appeal, I found myself not caring about these moments all that much and wanted to get back to the scares. These scenes are supposed to give us a reason to root for these guys to escape, but we only see one scene with Rob so there’s no attachment there to begin with. The reason we’re actually rooting for them is because of the actor’s chemistry together, as we can see they genuinely care about one another and want to escape.
The Ritual is, by no means, a perfect horror movie. The characters are pretty thin and the dialogue can be clunky. However, when watching a horror movie, you’re typically coming for one thing — the scares. And, to its credit, The Ritual did a far better job at scaring me than I thought it would. It’s a fun, creature-feature that’s much more in the same vein with 2016’s Blair Witch (which I truly, wholeheartedly think is a GREAT horror film and will never understand the hate that it gets) than something like that Natalie Dormer movie The Forest (which I’m sure I’m the only person out there who remembers that one).
Check out the trailer for The Ritual here and let us know what you thought of the movie in the comments below.
'Blair Witch' meets, well, 'Blair Witch': 'The Ritual' review7