Ritual is the latest Netflix original film. There are now so many different movies and TV shows being released on Netflix that it is hard to keep up with them all (and I hardly review them). However Ritual caught my eye because it is being produced by Gollum himself, Andy Serkis. If you’ve read my article on my most anticipated films of 2018 you’ll know how much of a fan I am of Andy Serkis so seeing him involved in a producing level intrigued me.
Ritual isn’t a big blockbuster nor is it an effects-heavy movie, Ritual is a low budget and stripped down horror film that is more about mood and sound rather than big bombastic sequences. Ritual follows a group of old college friends going on a hike through the mountains of Scandinavia. They are grieving the loss of their friend after getting killed in a liquor store robbery gone wrong. When on the hike one friend injuries his knee. Needing a faster way out of the mountains the group decides to take a shortcut through the woods. The woods harbor a dark and dangerous secret.
(Mild Spoilers Ahead)
Horror fans will immediately note the nods and inspirations of Ritual. There is certainly a Blair Witch Project and Wicker Man feel to The Ritual. The mood heavy approach of The Ritual reminded me a bit of Robert Eggers’s The Witch. The Ritual is dripping with mood and atmosphere. Bruckner doesn’t want to scare you with jump scares, he wants you to feel uneasy and unsettled. In that Bruckner does some great work especially through the first half of the movie, The Ritual really works.
The second half of The Ritual doesn’t work as well as the first. The Ritual is at it’s best when it is playing the story subtly and when the monster is in the background of the character’s drama. The movie really does a good job of executing the drama between this group of friends.
But once the movie has to start spilling its secrets and start showing the monsters, The Ritual becomes less interesting and lacks that atmosphere and tension that was so prevalent in the movie’s early stages. As soon as the monster is shown the movie loses all weight because director David Bruckner doesn’t do much with it. The shark in Jaws is still scary after it’s big reveal because Spielberg maintains the creature as this unstoppable force of nature. Bruckner doesn’t do much characterization with the beast. The Ritual never recovers the lost tension that it had earlier in the movie. The movie also lacks a resolution of the story’s key themes. The movie is about grief but it doesn’t do enough to revolve it or move it into a place that says anything about grief.
The movie doesn’t have anything really bad that stands out. The movie is competent in many areas. The first half of The Ritual is great but the second half feels like any other horror movie that takes place in the woods without the tension to back it up. This isn’t a bad movie just an unsatisfying one but as a simple Netflix movie, it does work well enough. This movie feels like it is a draft or two away from being a really good movie and it is easy to understand what attracted Andy Serkis as a producer. I will be interested in seeing what David Bruckner does next even if The Ritual is only just a decent horror entry.