THE RITUAL (OCTOBER 22ND)
YOU'VE GOT RED ON YOU TAKES PART IN THE 31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN CHALLENGE; WATCHING ONE HORROR MOVIE A DAY THROUGHOUT OCTOBER. SOME OF THEM OLD, SOME OF THEM NEW, SOME OF THEM HAVE JUST BEEN ON OUR SHELVES FOR YEARS GATHERING DUST, STILL IN CELLOPHANE...
Hiking holidays aren't for everyone. As beautiful as the scenery tends to be in the Scottish highlands or the Lake District or Switzerland or wherever it is people go on walking holidays now, invariably there are problems to overcome. Tired limbs, bad weather, injuries, exposure, falling out with your fellow hikers. However, if you decide to head off to Northern Sweden, those might be the least of your worries...
The Ritual is a British horror film directed by up-and-coming talent David Bruckner, best known for strong segments in anthology horrors V/H/S and Southbound. It's also the first time he has been the sole director on a feature film for ten years. Boasting a talented (and very small) cast including the talented Rafe Spall, the film is based on the 2011 novel by Adam Nevill. It's on at cinema's right now and hey, we'd normally include this as a standard review, but what do you expect? For me to watch TWO horror films in one day? Gimme a break!
The film begins in a pub with a group of thirty somethings planning a stag do. The usual suggestions are thrown up. Ibiza. Eastern Europe. But the groom-to-be (Paul Reid) wants to go hiking in (fucking) Sweden, much to the distress of several of his mates. They begrudgingly agree but things take a tragic turn later that evening when the groom-to-be and one of the gang (Spall) head to an off-licence. You see, they've just interrupted a robbery and whilst Spall hides, his mate remains frozen and is subsequently robbed by the two assailants. However when they ask him to remove his engagement ring he refuses and they smash his head in with a bat, all whilst a helpless Spall watches on.
Flash forward six months and the gang are in Sweden, albeit without the groom-to-be who didn't survive the head bashing. They've decided to honour their deceased friend by going on a holiday that none of them really wanted to go on. When you add to that the fact there is resentment bubbling away under the surface for Spall's character due to his alleged cowardice, then it's no surprise that the banter is soon replaced with bickering and in-fighting. When one of the gang twists his ankle, they decide to change their route and decide to head through the thick Scandinavian forest. However they are miles away from any sign of civilisation and it isn't long before they get the feeling that they aren't alone in them woods...
The film was sort of sold as a horror-comedy. The trailer contained some comedic moments and even the film's tagline 'They should have gone to Vegas suggests that this was going to be Blair Witch meets The Hangover or something. It's more like The Wicker Man meets Blair Witch with a bit of Troll Hunter thrown in for good measure. Because whilst there are some great one liners and a few moments that will make you laugh out loud (when ISN'T it funny when an old lady gets punched in the face?!) this is a pretty serious genre film that explores substantial themes such as guilt and remorse. It's also pretty savage too in places too – with the second half of the movie turning into a bit of a blood-bath. Bruckner carefully and methodically builds the tension and the scene where they awake after spending a night in an abandoned cabin in the woods, is nightmarishly impressive.
Spall plays the part of the cowardly central protagonist very well it has to be said. Although the rest of the cast are uniformly good, he is the heart-beat of the movie and Bruckner's portrayal of the character's contrition and anxiety is visually arresting. Dreams and flashbacks seamlessly merge with reality in some scenes – but don't worry, this isn't one of those 'it's all in his head' movies. That's never in doubt. It would be spoilerish of me to discuss the baddie here but suffice to say that I found it a relatively original - and scary – antagonist that isn't quite like anything I've seen recently, and that's not always easy to do.
The Ritual doesn't offer anything up that's ground-breaking and in parts, struggles to shake off the familiarity of other backwoods survival films that we've all seen in the past. However, it is still an enjoyably tense and very well made horror that confirms Bruckner's rising star status. If you haven't seen it already, head down to your local cinema/film theatre and do just that.