It’s very much a case of the wrong place at the wrong time for five lads out on the town, Luke, Hutch, Phil, Dom and Robert; making their farewells, Luke and Robert nip into a late night shop only to walk into an armed robbery. Out of sight behind the aisles Luke stays silent as Robert refuses to capitulate and hand over his wedding ring, watching in horror as his friend is struck to the ground with a fractured skull.
Six months later, the four remaining friends have chosen to honour Robert’s memory by following through with the walking holiday suggested only moments before his death, the King’s Trail between Sweden and Norway, camping out in the rugged mountains “smashed out by Nordic gods.”
Four men defenceless under the wide and angry sky, the irony is that if Robert hadn’t died his friends likely wouldn’t have gone on an adventure for which they are poorly prepared, a tumble exacerbating Dom’s bad knee and slowing their pace further leading Hutch to suggest an off-trail shortcut through the forest. The wrong place at the wrong time, indeed…
Adapted from Adam Nevill’s 2011 novel of the same name by Humans’ Joe Barton and directed by David Bruckner of Southbound, had it been produced five years earlier The Ritual would doubtless have been made as a found footage horror, so closely does it follow the template established by The Blair Witch Project and later slavishly followed by the likes of A Night in the Woods.
Fortunately Bruckner has moved past such things since Amateur Night, his contribution to the first V/H/S anthology, and despite the simple premise The Ritual is effective in generating the basic and primal dread that there is something out there beneath the endless trees stalking the four men, perhaps even herding them.
What each has brought with them is their nightmares which the forest is only too willing to magnify with the sights it presents, a disembowelled reindeer suspended from the canopy, runes carved into the bark of the trees, a cabin which offers a night out of the rain but whose upper rooms contain an effigy of a headless torso.
Perhaps not seen in the best of circumstances it is understandable that the four men are not necessarily likeable, yet despite having only four principal characters none are sufficiently developed beyond their initial impressions, Dom (Alien vs Predator‘s Sam Troughton) the whiny one, Luke (Prometheus‘ Rafe Spall) the guilty one, Hutch (Downton Abbey‘s Rob James-Collier) and Phil (The Missing‘s Arsher Ali) the alpha and beta beardy ones.
Echoing influences as diverse as Troll Hunter, The Texas Chain-Saw Massacre and The Wicker Man, like Lovely Molly the half-glimpsed Lovecraftian horror in the dark is for the most part wisely kept in the shadows, but while the film appears unsure what to do upon arriving at its ostensible destination it is still a more satisfying experience than the majority of the endless teen slasher films with which it will compete for an audience during the Hallowe’en season.
The Ritual is on general release from Friday 13th October