Your darkest dream awaits you.
A group of old university buddies reunites to honor their deceased friend in the vast hills and countryside of Sweden, but their trip goes awry when they decide to take a shortcut through a foreboding woodland.
Netflix’s new horror movie, The Ritual, starts out as a bundle of tried and true horror tropes, but ends up subverting expectations by changing gears halfway through the film. The movie is loosely based on a 2011 novel of the same name written by Adam Nevill. While I haven’t read the book myself(its been on my Kindle wishlist), I know that the movie does not strictly adhere to the novel, so fans of the book might find themselves peeved about that.
The movie starts off with this group of men being dealt a disastrous hand by the cards of fate, setting up a great emotional through-line for the rest of the film and creating an unspoken central tension between these supposed friends. From there, the film becomes your standard affair: a group of rowdy men gets themselves lost and isolated from the rest of the world. Queue the creepy shit. It’s not that pagan imagery can’t be scary, it’s just that we’ve all seen that type of movie before. However, something very interesting happens in the second act: the movie morphs subgenres. Blending dark psychological thrills with other types of horror, The Ritual becomes a Jack-Of-All-Trades and a master of one. Some viewers may find the transition to be jarring, but others will find it a pleasant surprise.
I don’t want to say much else on the matter because I don’t want to spoil it, but I will say that one particular design aspect manages to elevate a film that was in danger of becoming forgettable. It’s that good. Seriously, this is some of the most memorable design work I’ve seen in a horror movie in years(on par with the spectacular design work Guillermo Del Toro’s movies are known for). It’s the cast’s performances, Bruckner’s directing, and this unique quality that brings The Ritual into the upper ranks of Netflix’s horror fare.
My least favorite thing about the movie was the lack of a satisfying conclusion. While the ending to the movie was fine, it was one of two dreadfully predictable and easy outcomes. I think an ending that went better with the theme of how humans deal with loss and pain would have put a tighter bow on events and turned a good movie into a great one.