Following the death of their good friend, four close pals take a hiking trip through rural Sweden, as it was one of the last things he said he wanted to do, before he was killed in a robbery. When one of the lads gets injured on the trip, they decided to take what appears to be a short cut back to their lodge through a forest. There they stumble upon a hut, in which they take refuge from a torrential downpour, that is more than a little creepy, and then things start getting weird. The group find themselves in worrying situations, being stalked, but by who or what, they don’t know.
The dynamic of the group is pretty well written, with Spall’s character still trying to come to terms with what happened to their friend, knowing that deep down he could have intervened and he’d probably still be alive. There’s certain times when The Ritual feels more than a typical horror film, as there’s a lot that isn’t said that speaks louder than the dialogue, as well as some reflective moments, that set quite a melancholy tone. The direction and photography are fantastic, making use out of the surroundings and capturing them in a wonderful way. The forest at once feels both isolated and huge, which at times is just as intimidating as whatever is stalking the lads. It does feel like things could go fatally wrong with all involved, and there is a sense of ultimate doom lingering for all of the characters, as despite the film following a lot of clichés there are some scenes where you think that really is it for the characters, and given the tone of the film, it keeps you guessing to the end.
When the big reveal as to what’s been stalking them does happen, it’s quiet impressive, as there’s a few bits here and there that will have you second guessing yourself, and questioning whether it’s too far fetched, considering. But it is pretty unique, and very intriguing. The Ritual is an entertaining film, but is quite short on scares. The build up of tension seems to dissipate by the final third, which up until that point wound up nicely. The score worked well, getting more and more erratic and creepy as the group got deeper in to what was going on, and there were actually a couple of genuinely touching moments, as Spall’s character reflects on the incident that killed his friend and clearly left him a shell of his former self. There’s a few jump scares thrown in for good measure, but these are all pretty much your typical Lewton-bus type scares. And a couple of the scenes feel like the score mis-times its queue to try and make you jump. The Ritual is an engaging, and occasionally tense film, that overall lacks in scares, even if the tension does get tighter from time to time, but has an antagonist that needs to be seen to be believed, making its reveal bizarrely worth it.