The Ritual

We’re in the back-country, minus a backstory. At least with respect to what’s lurking in the woods.

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)

Nightworld

To amuse yourself, trying singing Bob Seger’s Night Moves replacing “moves” with “world.” That will provide more entertainment value than Nightworld, a lazy, plodding, pointless exercise in horror tropes, shot in Sophia, Bulgaria of all places.

When you think Bulgaria (if you think of it at all) it’s in the context of some direct-to-video horror show with Steven Seagal, a former action star with a head like a scrubbing pad.

Starring Jason London, who played Randall “Pink” Floyd, in Dazed and Confused, this is a pretty confused effort too (it’ll take a while to notice him too, and you’ll be asking, “how do I know that guy?)

He’s an ex-LAPD, Brett, who takes a security job in Bulgaria to escape the pain of losing his wife. Actually, throw in a few Chechen terrorists and this sounds like the type of rubbish Seagal would sign on for.

What is the gig all about? Who’s paying him? What is he supposed to be looking out for? He can’t get any answers anywhere. It’s a bit like Kakfa’s The Castle, except for the universal existentialism, timeless quality, or literary merit. So, you could say Nightworld is not like The Castle at all.

Brett is supposed to stare at a bunch of screens, and report to his superiors by speed-dialing “1” if anything happens. If such a conceit applied to Nightworld’s Netflix viewers, this button would be deployed oh, zero times.

He at one point summons (by speed dial), an old blind gent, Jacob (Robert Englund). It’s mildly amusing that someone new on a job that requires hyper-vigilance, summons someone unsighted to help out. Very mildly.

Apart from that, Nightworld deploys the usual old saws in horror, the creepy twins, the old house, the nightsweats…

One major debit: one of Brett’s employers, a supposed Bulgarian, is trying (and failing) to conceal a tough-guy, um…Guy Ritchie flick brogue.

If you’re wowed by mysterious CCTV footprints, this is the movie for you.

*1/2 (out of 5)