Based on Adam Nevill’s novel, this low budget UK horror adaptation is executive produced by Andy Serkis and directed by David Bruckner (The Signal, Southbound). After the death of a close friend, a group of thirty-something university friends go on a hiking trip into the Swedish mountains in his memory, however on discovering a cabin in the woods their trip turns into a visceral nightmare.
Mild spoilers follow… The film opens with the friends on a lads night out during which one of the group, Rob (Paul Reid) is brutally murdered in front of his friend Luke (Rafe Spall) during a bungled off-license burglary. Several months later they decide to take the aforementioned hiking trip yet tempers still remain frayed due to some believing Luke could have done more to help his friend.
Hutch (Rob James-Collier) is the voice of reason, Phil (Arsher Ali) is the cheeky one and Dominic (Sam Troughton) is the hypochondriac of the group, something which becomes abundantly clear when he sprains his ankle. In an effort to appease Dominic’s whining, Hutch decides a direct shortcut through the woods would be the best route back to their lodgings. The group sets off into the trees and as we all know from numerous other horror films of this type, the choice never bodes well.
The friends discover a cabin in the woods and despite finding some strange artefacts in one of the upstairs rooms, they decide to spend the night there as a thunderstorm rages on outside. During the night Luke has a disturbing vision and the next morning each friend awakens clearly distressed and affected by some ‘thing’. Shaken, scared and uncertain of what they have collectively experienced they desperately try to find their way out of the forest, but they are being hunted.
Bruckner directs from a screenplay by Joe Barton and his script is peppered with some mildly amusing laddish banter but this is definitely not in the same league as say Severance or Shaun of the Dead. Instead, The Ritual plays out like an amalgamation of Blair Witch, The Descent and The Wicker Man but to its detriment because everything just feels so very déjà vu. Whilst I appreciate Nevill’s original novel was an intentional homage to horror films, I can only assume the source material worked better on the page. I am not sure whether the ending is faithful but one thing is for certain, I was not expecting to be greeted with a monster movie and so maybe my expectations were too high.
The Ritual has a great cast, some interesting (although not particularly original) vision sequences and a nice splattering of gore which should have translated into a decent horror film. However, whether by virtue of screenplay, source material or just things not coming together Bruckner’s film generates very little tension, no real scares and one of the silliest endings I have seen in a long time. It is interesting to read that Netflix has secured worldwide rights (excluding the UK) for the film at $4.75 million, as I believe this is the best platform for it. It is maybe worth a look on a rainy Sunday afternoon but I would probably be inclined to read the novel instead.
The Ritual is released by eOne in UK cinemas on Friday 13th October 2017.