As a lover of horror movies, I felt well-prepared for the plot of The Ritual: four friends with skeletons in their group closet venture into the Nordic woods for a hiking holiday, where brutality unfolds. The plot itself was nothing new—the forest is always full of dangers for young men stranded outside civilization—but the expert cinematography and stunning performances all-around made for a pleasant surprise. Without giving anything too important away, I can say for certain that The Ritual is a great addition to the genre, and a testament to the chops of director David Bruckner, writer Joe Barton, and stars Rafe Spall and Sam Troughton.
From the first moment, we can see the rifts within our group of heroes. They’ve known each other since university and growing up has pushed some of them apart. Luke, played by Rafe Spall, is our main man, racked with guilt over the death of old friend Rob in a robbery-gone-wrong. Dom (Sam Troughton), the nerdy family man of the group, blames Luke for Rob’s death. Phil takes a background role, staying mostly quiet, while Hutch acts as the voice of reason.
The trip itself is an homage to Rob, the only one who really considered hiking in Sweden fun. In past years, they’d gone on lads’ trips to Ibiza and Amsterdam, but in honor of their late friend, hiking it is. All is well until Dom hurts his leg and the boys decide to take a shortcut back to the lodge… off the trail… through the forest… I’m sure you see where this is going.
The forces of nature and things unseen join forces against the four, stranding them in the dense woods with limited supplies and willpower. Our motley crew is thoroughly spooked by the time they are first attacked and press on through the woods despite a gutted elk hanging in the trees and a spooky house that riddles each with nightmares. Cleverly, Hutch is the first taken out by the antagonist—an unseen force for much of the film. With their level-headed leader gone, the group begins a descent into madness, sped up by fighting, injury, and terrifying discoveries. The plot is well-paced and I was impressed at the flow of the dialogue and dream sequences, often weaving certain imagery or motifs into each scene.
A number of good scares made their way into the final cut, and I have to admit I flinched more than once. The antagonist is terrifying, even before it rears its ugly head, and its minions are creepy enough to at least stay in your head for a few days. I would put myself solidly in the middle of the “Easy to Scare” scale, and the gore and unease of this movie did not put me off. If you’re looking for a good scare and a good story, The Ritual is the film for you. On the surface, it evokes a classic horror premise. Deep down, it’s a story about becoming an adult and facing your fears. The ending isn’t necessarily a twist, but it does leave you satisfied with the character growth and movie lore.