Movie Review : The Ritual (2017)
Last February, The Ritual dropped on Netflix and my Facebook timeline was instantly set on fire. People were pumped up about this, partly because it was adapted from a novel by Adam Nevill, someone I have 32 friends in common with. The acclaim was universal on my social media feeds: The Ritual was nothing short of a triumph. It was "real horror" that didn't rely on jump scares to work its audience. Rotten Tomatoes told an entirely different story, though, aggregating a 70% score from the critics and 58% from the audience.
Who was saying the truth? I watched The Ritual and found out for myself.
The Ritual is the story of five college friends who reunite for a trip every year or so, for old time's sake. When Rob (Paul Reid) is murdered in a convenience store robbery for refusing to surrender his wedding ring, they decide to go on with their idea of going hiking in Sweden. None of them are outdoor enthusiasts, but they want to do something different to honor their friend's memory. When Dom (Sam Troughton) hurts his knee, they decide to step off the trail and take a shortcut through the woods. There are two things you can find in the Swedish forest: monsters and church-burning satanists. And these guys hit the motherload.
I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but The Ritual is not that good. It looks slick, but it's somewhat of a paint-by-numbers monster movie: douche bros go camping, tension build between them, they get picked apart by a supernatural force, they turn against one another, hilarity ensues... you've seen a hundred movies like this if you're into horror. The lone original twist is that the douche bros are middle-aged and are showing the weight of failures, regrets, added weight and dissatisfaction with their reality. They're more complex and relatable than college douche bros, but they're not any more sympathetic. The Ritual is more of a slight twist of an old idea than the horror revolution that was sold to me.
Luke (Rafe Spall) was the most interesting character to me for two reasons. First, he hid behind a shelf when Rob was killed and walks around with the shame and trauma of his decision for all the movie. Also, his character arc was more unpredictable because of it. The supernatural force confronting the douche bros in the woods keeps showing him flashbacks of the liquor store murders, forcing him to confront his cowardice. So, that was cool. It toroughly lacked resolution and left me frustrated at the end of the movie, but I don't doubt there's something more to that subplot in Adam Nevill's novel. It was a cool idea.
Anyway, The Ritual looked great and flirted with interesting ideas without ever committing to any of them. It's stylish, well-told, but at the end of the day, it's a straightforward and predictable monster movie. And I get bored when I know exactly what's going to happen. Every scene leading up to the inevitable climaxes are just obnoxious time-fillers that have me either rolling my eyes or checking up my phone. And that's kind of an ultimate sacrilege for me. The Ritual was not terrible or stupid, but my appreciation of it ranged between the critics and the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. It has the promise of being satisfying, but it never quite delivers.