We missed this at the cinema – not difficult to do, since it had a blink-and-miss-it release – but we saw the trailer and thought it looked promising. But The Ritual, directed by David Bruckner and based on a novel by Joe Barton and Adam Neville, is now happily located on Netflix. It starts well enough, exerting a steadily mounting Blair Witch-style sense of dread, but eventually loses its way.
At the film’s opening, Luke (Rafe Spall) is out with his mates on the town. They are Phil (Arsher Ali), Hutch (Robert James-Collier), Dom (Sam Troughton) and Robert (Paul Reid). Luke’s mates are all showing troubling signs of growing up. They don’t want to stay out on the lash and are discussing plans for their upcoming holiday together, which – instead of the usual booze up in a hot climate – is shaping up to be a hiking trip in a remote part of Sweden. Luke persuades Robert to go into a off-licence with him to purchase a bottle of vodka and the two of them chance upon an armed robbery in progress. Luke ducks behind some shelves and Robert winds up bloodily murdered.
Six months later, Luke and the rest of the band find themselves embarking on the long hike that Robert was so keen to do – but Luke is haunted by the fact that he failed to help his friend and is also aware that the others think less of him for not stepping up when push came to shove. The group soon become lost in dense forests and, when a violent rain storm hits them, they take refuge in an old shack for the night, where things turn decidedly scary.
Now they have to continue their trek, horribly aware that they are being pursued by something unseen, something that has a nasty habit of leaving dead animals hanging in trees…
The first two thirds of the film are really rather effective. The edgy interplay between the characters is convincingly written and the terrifying foe is a powerful concept as long as it remains pretty much unseen, which it does for about an hour. But the final section squanders all of that hard-earned suspense by offering a convoluted explanation that feels distinctly risible. It’s not helped that the effect sequences that finally show the marauding beast are rather less than convincing.
Also, there’s something strangely skewed about the logic of this tale. Luke badly needs some redemption but, as it stands, he doesn’t really get any; he just finds himself plunged into a desperate struggle for survival. And I’m desperately struggling to care.
A shame, because this could be a decent little chiller. Instead it feels more like a great big missed opportunity.