Skip to content

The Ritual #MovieReview

The tragic and untimely death of a close friend leads four men- Luke, Phil, Hutch and Dom- to a remote national park in Sweden to complete a trek in his memory. Upon getting lost, however, the friends discover strange and ancient terrors in in the woods, and it doesn’t take long to realise they are being hunted by a force unlike anything they’ve ever experienced or imagined before.

The Ritual movie poster

The Ritual Tagline: Your darkest dream awaits you
Starring: Arsher Ali, Rob James-Collier, Rafe Spall, Sam Troughton, Paul Reid
Release Date: 13-October-2017 | Runtime: 1 hr 34 min | Genre: Horror,Thriller | Rating: 4/5

Page break indicator for Sci-Fi & Scary

The Ritual Review

The Ritual is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Adam Nevill. I’m a big Nevill fan, and was skeptical about a film version of something which I enjoyed very much for what it was at the time- a great romp through the literal woods. But, (and there’s always a but), the book is also richly detailed and very visual in nature, so it makes sense that it would translate well to the big screen. For the sake of expediency, let’s dispense with the setting first: four friends find themselves hiking through a Swedish forest after taking an ill-advised shortcut (how many innocent people can we save in these films by just agreeing never to take the short cut, I wonder?). Think trees, think brooding greens and blues and browns, think log cabins and rain and general outdoor malaise, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what The Ritual is about.  

Except this is more than just a ‘scary things in the woods’ film. The Ritual is more about what it means to be a middle-aged chap (for once, I am not going to bemoan the general prevalence of sausage and lack of beans, because it is, after all, a film about four blokes. I mean, there are a few minor token female roles shoehorned into the plot towards the end, but in context at least, they work fine. Crucify me at will for saying so, it is possible to enjoy the odd sausage without a helping of beans on top, and this is one of those times. Christ, my gender-based analogies need some work).

FYI, Director Bruckner also directed V.H.S. (2012), a movie that had thus far escaped me until last week, and which turned out to be an enjoyable found-footage romp. He was also one of the directors on the anthology-movie Southbound (2015), which I LOVED for its imaginative assortment of compelling shorts set in and around a remote highway.

So we’re off to a good start: robust source material, director with good spook credentials, and lastly, but not least, a very solid cast made up of Arsher Ali, Rob James-Collier (that bloke off Downton Abbey), Rafe Spall, and Sam Troughton. Spall was an excellent casting choice, giving the role of reluctant leader Luke some much needed depth and grit. If you’re wondering where you’ve seen him before, it’s largely been in comedic stuff like Shawn of the Dead (2004) (“You’ve got red on you”), Hot Fuzz (2007) (“Fuck off up the model village”, with Paddy Considine) and I give it a Year (2013) (my husband made me watch this on my first wedding anniversary and I was not impressed at all). Maybe there is something wrong with me, but I very much enjoyed seeing him suffer in this film, perhaps because he suffers with enormous gravitas and is quickly becoming one of my favourite Brit actors (I’m also a sucker for heritage, and like watching his facial similarities to his father Tim Spall in certain scenes).

The casting is everything here, and doesn’t disappoint- the fractious relationship between the ‘friends’ is expertly played out as events unfold, and we see the full range of complicated emotions: the fragility of ego, the intensity of guilt, the realisation that familiarity is not the same as genuine companionship, and an understanding that the only thing bringing the four men together year after year for reunions is force of habit- they aren’t even sure they like each other anymore, a highly relatable concept for a lot of us reaching our middle years. In addition, as is right with character-driven horror of this nature, each man has a burden to bear: financial ruin, divorce, blame, lack of direction- backstories that give our protagonists depth, but don’t save them from the things that go chomp in the night. Both book and film seek to examine what it means to get older and wake up one morning to discover all your dreams are further away than they were when you were young, and both do a good job of that. I am eternally grateful that the story did not get Hollywoodised to the point where the characters were un-anglicized- not because I hold onto any small-island mentality (I’m British, afterall), but because the dialogue and interaction between them felt all the more genuine for sticking closely to the aforementioned source material.

Not that I mind when a film and book deviate from one another- I always hold Kubrick’s The Shining up as an, ahem, ‘shining’ example of a movie that improved upon a flawed novel, much to King’s reported distaste. My biggest issue with Nevill’s nonetheless excellent The Ritual is that, upon reading, it very much feels like two books stitched together- we have the ‘things you see in the woods’ narrative, and then the ‘unholy ancient gods and heavy metal’ narrative that follows, which Nevill himself confessed during a book signing event I went to that some of his readers found a little difficult to deal with. I liked it, for its worth, because it gave the book an unexpected second wind, but I can also see why the movie decides to avoid certain elements of the last part of the novel to make a cleaner, more linear narrative. And it works here, meaning there is something new to enjoy away from the book- and when well-executed, I always appreciate this, because I like to experience something on its own merits, so to speak, rather than be an utter slave to what has gone before.

Another plus point for me in The Ritual is the conservative use of special effects, so that the reveal of the mystery predator hunting the four men towards the end is every bit as shocking and mesmerising as you want to to be, with some brilliant, memorable creature design that really does hit the spot. There is also plenty of gore, a ton of shocks and scares, and some genuinely disturbing imagery- particularly in an abandoned cabin that our chums decide to shelter in one night.

Without giving too much away, the bleak and stark ending will leave you feeling the same way you felt at the conclusion of Neil Marshall’s The Descent (2005): great hardships and evil have been overcome, but to what cost? It’s difficult to imagine Luke toddling off home to have a nice cosy existence after everything he has been through, after all. The two films have a lot in common, actually- they both rely upon treating nature as an adversary as well as the beasties and monsters that dwell in the dark, and both films hinge upon relatable characters rubbing each other up the wrong way.

In short, this is an enjoyably bleak version of a buddy movie that has some truly intense and powerful moments in, and is well worth a watch, or two, in my case. Enjoy!

Published inMovie Reviews
banner advertising Ladies of Horror Fiction


  1. I’ve been tempted to watch this movie, and honestly this review sorta sold it for me. Going to give it a watch later this week. Thanks for writing and sharing your review on it!

  2. The suspense and atmosphere was GOOD until they revealed the creature. I just personally did not like how the creature looked which was disappointing because everything else up until that point was great.

  3. Great review and we liked a lot of the same things about this one.

What are your thoughts?

©Sci-Fi & Scary 2019
%d bloggers like this: