The Ritual is both a solid effort, as well as wasted opportunity, burning out like a booster rocket after such a strong, claustrophobic, and very disquieting start.
The setup ain’t exactly reinventing the wheel, it’s that shop-worn intro we’ve seen in hundreds of horrors: a bunch of people looking for something to do on vacation. You know that never turns out well.
Here, it’s a bunch of 30-something Brits on the cusp of adulthood (some closer to the threshold than others) debating whether to do another bar piss-up in Amsterdam, or something a bit more off the beaten path: literally, as the case may be.
When one of them dies in a horrible liquor store holdup, they honor his memory by doing his travel itinerary suggestion: a hike in the wilds of Sweden. “The show must go on” as Queen sang and the crew — Phil, Dom, Hutch and Luke — is off to remote Scandinavia.
These gents seem urbane, educated…you know…exactly the type who should not be venturing out into the bush. So when one of them comes up with the idea of a shortcut to get to the village quicker (or more accurately, to the village bar) they all chime in, “OK.”
Sense of place is paramount in horror. And this set up is incredible. These dark woods are creepy as all hell. As is the abandoned cabin. And what they encounter in the forest.
Director David Bruckner of V/H/S fame graces us with atmosphere that’s tough to match.
The Ritual comes up short with its antagonists though, and can’t sustain its terrific energy for the back third.
For those interested in bickering / male bonding / wilderness films, definitely check out the superior Rituals, aka “The Canadian Deliverance,” Southern Comfort, or White Raven.
*** (out of 5)