Star Rating:

The Ritual

Director: David Bruckner

Actors: Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Paul Reid, Robert James Collier

Release Date: Friday 13th October 2017

Genre(s): Horror

Running time: 94 minutes

A group of college friends (Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, Rafe Spall, Sam Troughton) reunite for a hiking trip in Sweden after the violent murder of one of their own (Paul Reid). However, after the trip moves off course and into a mysterious forest, things go from bad to far, far worse.

Looking at The Ritual's trailers and teasers, it's easy to see how the film was made - it essentially pitches itself as The Hangover meets Deliverance with supernatural elements sprinkled over it for effect, and that really is it. However, there's a lot more to the film than merely just cherrypicking tropes and smashing them together, but it all gets lost in the service to narrative and delivering familiar scares to the audience.

The film opens with a group of forty-something men in a pub, planning a trip away with one of their number - Rafe Spall - grousing about the fact that the group has lost its willingness to have fun. This comes abruptly to an end when Spall and Irish actor Paul Reid walk in on an armed robbery in an off-licence and Reid is killed. From there, it moves to Sweden and the opening five minutes, the film lays out the group into predictable tropes - Spall is the schlub, Sam Troughton is the nervous one, Paul Reid is the gung-ho leader and Arsher Ali is the voice of reason. Each actor plays the role they're given with ease; Spall easily plays the cynical follower, but the added layer of guilt underneath his presence makes for some interesting moments, and carries the film forward.

However, it's how the film handles the rest of the cast that makes the film somewhat unfulfilling. As with any horror film with an ensemble cast, it's writ large that almost none of them are going to survive - and the film doesn't tend to explore any of the characters beyond the initial reading of them. This, in turn, makes us hard to care about them in any kind of meaningful way. They're merely just fodder for the unnamed ritual, which when it's eventually revealed, borders on hilarious. The film does, however, have some excellent cinematography and the sound design is particularly effective at creating atmosphere and dread.

The idea of using a forest as a place of fear and terror is something that's been done before this year, namely in Lorcan Finnegan's excellent Without Name. Here, it's nowhere near as stylish, but director David Bruckner instead gives it a grit and griminess than recalls 2008's Eden Lake. The film zips along at a steady pace, and had more time been giving to allow characters to breathe, it may have made for a more rounded experience. Still, the film has plenty of atmosphere and doesn't rely too often on cheap jump-scares to get its point across. By the third act, the layering of atmosphere is blown away by the titular ritual, and it's here that the film really loses the run of itself.

It's a shame because, up until that point, The Ritual worked as an effective horror-thriller with some decent chills and sound design. Fine for what it is, but could have been so much more.