Some alarms, not many surprises
This British horror film, based on an acclaimed novel by Adam Nevill, begins in a very British setting: the pub. Some male friends in their 30s are debating where to go on a lads’ holiday: hiking in Sweden, or partying hard in Ibiza? Frustrated that his pals are slipping into paunchy middle age, Luke (Black Mirror’s Rafe Spall) tries to goad them into buying more booze after last orders, but only Robert (Paul Reid) follows him into the off-licence. The two men stumble on a hold-up, and Robert is bludgeoned to death while Luke evades the robbers by crouching down, cowering, at the end of the aisle.
The Ritual then cuts to northern Sweden, where the friendship group’s four remaining members are taking that hiking trip in Robert’s honour. The landscape is bleakly beautiful and the atmosphere is suitably muted as they create a makeshift shrine at the top of a mountain. But then Dom (Robin Hood’s Sam Troughton) twists his knee and their planned route back to the hiking lodge becomes impossible. The group’s de facto leader, gruff Hutch (Downton Abbey’s Robert James-Collier), suggests that instead of circumnavigating a dark and dense-looking forest, they take a shortcut through it.
What happens next won’t shock even casual horror fans. The guys are grossed out when they spot a disembowelled bear strung up in the trees, and confused by some unusual letters carved into the bark. As rain begins lashing down, they take shelter in a creepy abandoned cabin which particularly spooks the group’s most likeable member, Phil (Four Lions’ Arsher Ali). Yet despite the setting’s familiarity, director David Bruckner (who previously co-directed 2015 horror anthology film Southbound) manages to build tension steadily and effectively. He’s helped by a compelling performance from Spall, who brilliantly hints at the guilt eating away at his character since Robert’s gruesome death.
Sadly, The Ritual’s big reveal is both predictable and a bit silly, which drains the ending of some of its tension. The result is a workmanlike but watchable horror flick which provokes a few gasps without ever really raising your heart rate.
Release Date: 8 September, 2017