2 out of 5
Directed by: David Bruckner
Guys go hiking. Circumstances force them off trail. They get lost. Is it a horror movie? Yes? Then there will likely be some violent locals accosting them, or a monster, or both. Yes, you’ve seen The Ritual before.
But you’ve seen most horror movies before, so that doesn’t have to be an outright knock against the flick, and director David Bruckner gives scripter Joe Barton’s setup (adapted from a book by Adam Nevill) a very handsome, moody look, taking notes from the slow-burn class of horror by not really showing us anything or giving away anything too early, but shaking leaves and branches at opportune moments, clouding the surrounding forest the main troupe marches into in haunting gasps of light and cloaking shadow. Ben Lovett’s sneaky score complements this well, and while our four main characters do the whole bickering bit when things go awry, they form a pretty believable clique of mates, gathered for their yearly sojourn, and given a sense of life beyond the ‘leader,’ ‘the funny one,’ and etc. roles they play by each of their actors.
When the set get to an abandoned cabin in the woods, surrounded by cult-y imagery, and then wake up the next morning in various states of disaray – one guys is naked, and praying to an idol! – it seems like The Ritual is going to move well past its rote setup. Unfortunately, this sensation doesn’t last. Bruckner continues to shoot things admirably, but he starts to do some quick cuts away from things happening in the woods that don’t feel organic; that is, the camera is looking away for us, too aware that it needs to keep the audience from seeing Whatever It Is. Similarly, the slow burn style starts to feel like a fallback instead the right stylistic choice, and the juxtaposition against some violence that occurs doesn’t properly make the latter shocking: it comes across as tossing something on screen because the clock is ticking. As some more relatively predictable details are added into the mix, this sensation grows; we’re way too late into the movie when visually compelling things begin to happen again, and the movie isn’t quite emotionally mature enough to translate them with impact. While some effects towards the climax are very well done, the scale is titled toward the ‘bad’ side of the ‘average horror movie’ meter by the worst possible moment: the very last scene, which is essentially just a fade out, and doesn’t really do anything with any of the events we’ve seen.