“We always knew this was a show-the-damn-monster kind of flick.” – director David Bruckner
If you haven’t yet seen the movie, turn away now. You’ve been warned.
One of the best kept secrets in recent horror history is the creature found in David Bruckner’s new dudes-in-the-woods flick The Ritual, which arrived exclusively on Netflix earlier this month. Going into the film, the marketing revealed absolutely *nothing* about the creature, and the movie itself shrouds it in secrecy for much of its runtime.
Sort of like Jaws, though intentionally rather than due to a mechanical prop malfunctioning, The Ritual smartly keeps its villainous beast hidden from view for a good portion of the film, unleashing it for a bonkers finale that’s one of the most awe-inspiring final acts the horror genre has given us in recent years. The tension and terror of not knowing exactly *what* is hunting a group of friends on a hiking expedition paves way for a full-on reveal that’s downright jaw dropping, as the monster is HOLY SHIT cool.
Creature designs have become increasingly uninspired in recent years, with most of the truly breathtaking monsters being exports of decades long since passed. For starters, Pumpkinhead is perhaps my personal favorite monster design, and similarly inhuman beasts like the Graboids, the Predator and the Xenomorph also come to mind.
But the creature from The Ritual brings that genuine invention back to the world of creature design, blowing your mind with something you’ve *never* seen before.
The Ritual‘s creature, referred to as Moder in the Adam Nevill-penned book it’s based on and “twig demon” by the cast, is hard to even describe, which is part of what makes it such a compelling and interesting beast. We know that it’s an ancient God, one of the Norse Jötunn, spring of Loki, that is worshiped by a small occult village in Sweden. They pray to it and offer it human sacrifices, which the beast guts and hangs up in the woods as totems of sorts. The creature’s mythology is intentionally unclear; it’s seemingly able to mess with minds and make people see things that aren’t really there, and it also seems to offer immortality to the villagers who agree to pray to it as their God.
Keith Thompson was the man tasked with designing what we’ll refer to as Moder, and Bruckner explained to us recently that it was heavily inspired by Norse mythology and the Jötnar clan of shape-shifting giants, often presenting with combined human and animal qualities. “The beast design we finally settled on was simply the one I couldn’t take my eyes off of,“ Brucker told us, echoing our own thoughts to a tee.
An impossibly surreal monster, teased with chilling bits and pieces throughout the in-the-woods portions of The Ritual – and, unbeknownst to us, glimpsed via a creepy sculpture early in the film that we (and the characters) initially believe to be an effigy of a headless human – the so-called “twig demon” appears to shape-shift before our eyes, looking like a demonic giraffe with antlers and… human arms… coming out of its face?!
In fact, the creature’s entire head appears to be a re-assembled human body, with its head cut off, antlers in place of its arms, and its arms where its legs used to be. There’s also a set of eerily lit up eyes amidst all that, because this bad boy needs to see.
Yeah, it’s pretty goddamn crazy. So next time you find someone bemoaning that they don’t make movie monsters like they used to, tell them to watch The Ritual on Netflix.
It’ll completely renew their hope in the art of creature design.