Much has been written of late of how Netflix’s influence is perhaps changing the way films will be released in the future with the streaming service recently being responsible for the release of big budget productions such as, David Ayer’s Will Smith starring, Bright and the third chapter of the Cloverfield franchise. Whilst both of those received fair to middling reviews, there is no denying that both would have potentially benefitted from a theatrical release, where their visual effects and cinematography could have been showcased to full effect. This new trend is not a particular bug bear of mine, but it certainly it is to others with yet further controversy surrounding the Netflix U.K. release of Alex Garland’s forthcoming Annihilation meaning the film will be denied a theatrical release here. If this sounds familiar then The Ritual is everything a Netflix film needs to be (although it did have a small and brief UK cinema run last year).
It’s a claustrophobic and tense horror that works perfectly on the small screen, a film that although set in the Swedish wilderness (although actually filmed in Romania), easily fits its main cast in the same shot, with no need for a cinema sized screen.
Based on the acclaimed horror novel from British writer Adam Nevill, The Ritual tells the story of four friends on a hiking pilgrimage through the Swedish mountains in honour of the murdered fifth member of their group who was killed during a convenience store robbery during a boy’s night out six months previously. The murder itself is shown early on and is a brutal and visceral scene that serves as a timely reminder of how precious life is and how easily it can be taken away. It’s also the precursor to this tale of a group of college friends attempting to deal with the aftermath. Although all of the remaining group were all in the vicinity of the tragedy, only Luke (Rafe Spall) was actually present and he now has to live with the guilt of his actions during the incident.
When the four remaining friends are forced to take a short cut through a dense and expansive forest they are soon plunged into darkness both figuratively and literally as strange dreams and visions begin to manifest around them, coupled with the impending acceptance that someone, or something is stalking them through the crowded wall of gigantic trees that surrounds them.
Mixing in elements of Deliverance, Dog Soldiers, Predator and The Wicker Man, The Ritual never oversteps its mark despite such lofty comparisons and provides a compelling tale that could easily have strayed into hokey horror territory but instead concentrates more on the group dynamic and in particular, one individual’s need for atonement in the face of such adversity.
The film is ably wrangled by director David Bruckner, who manages to keep the atmosphere tense throughout with believable dialogue and character arcs courtesy of script-writer Joe Barton, as well as the cinematography of Andrew Shulkind also playing its part in maximising the sense of doom. A lot of the action takes place at night yet the film manages to effectively convey what’s happening via torchlight, adding to a general sense of mounting fear as to what may be surrounding the group in the darkness beyond.
Whilst not exactly groundbreaking, The Ritual benefits from a lot of well placed, familiar genre tropes such as satanic looking artefacts, a cult-like tribe and glimpses of a large monstrous figure parting the trees. The use of these tropes never feels cheap and the film benefits from solid, relatable performances from Spall and his co-stars. There are some suitably realistic effects and a surprisingly satisfying finale with a genuinely inspired monstrous creation.
It’s almost a shame that more hasn’t been made of the film’s release on the streaming platform in comparison to the aforementioned and far more expensive blockbusters as it definitely comes out on top as the most interesting and entertaining and is proof positive once again that a good script can go a long way. The Ritual is recommended to both horror fans and fans of tense, well written stories brimming with atmosphere and is yet another reason to subscribe to Netflix.
Film ‘89 Verdict – 7.5/10
The Ritual is available now on Netflix (regional variances may apply).