After their friend Rob (Paul Reid) is killed during a robbery, Hutch (Robert James-Collier), Luke (Rafe Spall), Phil (Arsher Ali) and Dom (Sam Troughton) go to Sweden together to go on the hiking trip that Rob suggested just before he died. Despite not being very experienced hikers, everything goes well until Dom falls and twists his ankle. They decide to deviate from the original plan and go through the forest instead of around it. But there is something in the forest. Something that is hunting them.
The Ritual starts off well enough when establishing its characters and their situation. But once it would have been time to really dig in to that, it turns to scariness instead and loses its grip on the story and the audience watching.
The Ritual does have some good scares, don’t get me wrong. And the monster design is absolutely fantastic. Inventive and creepy, it’s been a while since I saw something of its caliber. So the potential was definitely there.
But for it to work emotionally, one would have to care about the characters, or at least get the feeling that the movie is trying to say something. That is where the film starts faltering. One problem is that we only get an idea of Luke and his struggles: he saw Rob die. He might have intervened, to uncertain outcome, but he chose to stay in hiding and protect himself. He feels guilty. Did he make the right decision? Was it his fault Rob died? We don’t know much more about Luke and his background, but we know more about him than about the other three guys, except maybe Dom who has a wife and children and a successful business. And we do know that all four of them are dudebros, manly men. All, that is, except maybe Dom who is constantly ridiculed by the others for his supposed softness.
That toxic masculinity is never really challenged, and ultimately, when Luke is the only one to leave the forest, one does wonder if the film ever thought about what kind of “moral” it wanted us to take away from the film. (There is always a moral, especially in horror movies with its life and death stakes.) He basically survives because of the guilt he feels, and because he looks out for himself. So, the film seems to say that your best chances at life are if you behave like a dudebro, but feel bad about it? Or something. I doubtthat the film knows what it wanted to say, but if it did, it really doesn’t come across.
If there had been more character work, this could have worked, especially given the excellent way Bruckner and his cinematographer use the forest (and, let me say it again, that creature). The cast would have been good enough to work with. It’s just a pity that they didn’t really.
Summarizing: a missed opportunity, but with good moments.