New Horror Releases: The Ritual (2018) - Reviewed

With the constant, unending stream of new horror movies being released across platforms, finding an original setting is nearly impossible. A film set in a haunted house will undoubtedly lead to comparisons to the dozens of box office successes with similar jumping off points, and when you think of a forest plagued by an unseen menace, it’s impossible not to think of the shockingly successful The Blair Witch Project. A comparison to such a well known, pop culture saturated film could definitely be seen as a hurdle to overcome when crafting one’s own script. I’m happy to say that The Ritual leap frogs its similarities to other wooded nightmares on the strength of Joe Barden’s adaptation of Adam Nevill’s 2011 novel of the same name.

Filmed on location in stunning Swedish mountains and woodlands, The Ritual follows four lifelong friends commemorating the memory of a recently deceased member of their group with a hiking trip in his honor. It’s a testament to the script, actors and director alike that these well drawn relationships are the impetus of the fear and terror that comes on the end of a gloriously tense slow burn. Director David Bruckner takes his time setting up, allowing the viewer to slip into the group and figure out each character’s idiosyncrasies, and how they affect the group dynamic. The early banter feels lived in and real, giving the true vibe that these are men who have spent the majority of their lives busting each others’ balls. The chemistry of the four leads is on point and allows your concern for the characters to fuel the terror once the sun goes down. It also allows for the growth of the characters to have a tremendous impact on the viewer.

While the woods may give a film a Blair Witchian tint, The Ritual sets itself apart with some truly beautiful, understated camera work. Hiding the big bad amidst the endless trees makes you constantly wonder if you’re seeing something that isn’t there, or missing something that is lurking in the shadows. The set dressings, complete with creepy markings and symbols, get progressively more disturbing as the subtle scares take a turn for the more visceral. Ben Lovett’s haunting score is the perfect counterpart to the setting, ramping the tension up as our heroes get themselves into deeper and deeper trouble.

My only true complaint about The Ritual is that the unhurried pace that serves the film so well through the first three acts falters at the climax. While the reveal of the unseen presence does NOT disappoint, once the action starts, it stutters, which leads it to feeling slightly dragged out. Even with that being said, if you’re looking for a strong plot driven horror film that’s also gorgeous to watch, you could do a whole lot worse than The Ritual

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-Josie Stec