A Surprisingly Well Written Horror
Horror is one of those genres that’s tricky to get right and even more difficult to avoid cheap tactics like jump scares to provoke fear. The Ritual is the latest horror effort to have a go at standing out from the masses and whilst the film certainly isn’t without its problems, there’s enough originality here to make it well worth a watch. Although The Ritual does show a little too much in the final act, spoiling the tension built up until that point, it can be forgiven thanks to a strong opening and middle act.
The premise is set up within minutes of the film starting. A group of male college friends decide to go on holiday to rekindle their friendship from college. After a banter fuelled conversation they agree to go hiking in the Swedish wilderness. After a shocking tragedy leaves the group reeling, The Ritual picks up 6 months later in the gorgeous landscape of Sweden where the four remaining friends, Luke (Rafe Spall), Phil (Arsher Ali), Hutch (Robert James-Collier) and Dom (Sam Troughton) make good on their promise to go travelling. It doesn’t take long before they run into trouble and decide to take a shortcut through the dense forest to reach the safety of the lodge on the other side. Of course, in true horror fashion this isn’t the idealistic route they hoped it would be and it quickly becomes apparent they may not be alone in the woods. The beauty of the premise is in its simplicity and with most of the film set in the claustrophobic forest, there’s a lot of goosebump-inducing sounds and imagery used to really heighten the fear large stretches of the 90 minute run time is consumed by.
There’s a good use of Sweden’s natural beauty used too; lots of gorgeous, sweeping aerial shots of the breathtaking vistas as well as an interesting trick of zooming in on a static shot of the trees dominate many of the shots used here. The zoom in trick works well the first few times its used but it is abused somewhat, used repeatedly through the film that eventually it loses its effectiveness. Although The Ritual has a few really tense moments and scarcely placed jump scares, the realistically depicted characters are what stand out the most here and partly contributes to why this horror works as well as it does.
Too many times horror films are plagued by idiotic characters that make unrealistic choices ordinary people just wouldn’t make. It’s a nice surprise then that The Ritual bucks this trend and instead features four characters driven by realistic motives and graced by a wonderful script full of witty dialogue. With only a handful of characters, The Ritual gives the characters plenty of script to work with in conversations disguised as being unimportant but cleverly reveal more about their personas without dumping expository laden monologues on the audience. Of course, the acting from the four characters is equally as important and in this respect The Ritual nails this too with a group of characters that truly feel like they’re old friends.
The Ritual boasts a well paced script and for the first 3/4 of this film is excellent, following four well written characters as they try to navigate the dense forest of Sweden whilst avoiding whatever might be in there with them. With a scarce amount of jump scares, this horror plays more on psychological traits, fuelling the film with tension and dread through vast periods of the film. The Ritual may not be the best horror you’re likely to see this year, nor is it likely to have the scariest moments, but the combination of realistically written characters and a tension fuelled atmosphere help The Ritual stand out from the masses. If you can forgive the questionable amount shown at the end of the film, The Ritual is a highly enjoyable horror and well worth watching.
Verdict - 7/10