After Dark Films’ new release Ritual opens with a warning of extreme violence, then lets us know that we have 30 seconds to leave before it starts. Aw, c’mon. Already I wanna turn it off. I hate gimmicks like that. Gaspar Noé pulled that shit in I Stand Alone and I didn’t buy it back then. It’s like the filmmakers are rubbing how “extreme” they’re trying to be in the audience’s face instead of just going for it.
The warning is pretty misleading too, since the violence in Ritual isn’t overly graphic or gory at all. The score got under my skin more than anything my eyeballs took in. Anyway, I disregarded the warning and watched the whole thing, which turned out to be a tedious attempt at slow-burn horror. By the time the creepy parts kicked in, the film’s just treading water.
After the warning and some malevolent opening credits that cop Halloween‘s style, we butt in on the first time Lovely (Lisa Marie Summerscales) and Tom (Dean Cates) meet. It’s a picturesque beach scene, shot in one take. Lovely is wearing Lolita-esque heart-shaped shades and Tom’s being all flirty, which she reciprocates. Then the film jumps to much later, after the couple have become estranged. She calls Tom up in a frenzied panic and tells him to come to a motel where she’s at. He arrives to find a distraught Lovely and a guy she stabbed a buncha times. He may or may not be dead.
What follows is basically a build up to the titular ritual. Turns out the guy bleeding on the floor is in a cult that gets off on wearing skull masks and stabbing women with a sacrificial dagger. Black cloaks, candles, the whole thing. Tom and Lovely learn this by watching a VHS tape they find in the guy’s car. Why they’re still at the fucking motel at this point is beyond me. The bulk of the film takes place there, and after a while it simply begins to meander.
Ritual does have some aspects going for it. The sound design is effectively jarring, and like I mentioned earlier the score is fantastic. Cates and Summerscales do a fine job, although they’re not given much to do. Especially Summerscale, whose whole role entails whimpering and screaming. It’s great that we get to spend so much time with the characters, but most of their dialogue is just arguing about what to do, so we never actually get to know them. The acting and score unfortunately are bogged down by the cinematography and editing, which feel like an uninspired attempt at tapping into David Lynch’s style.
Writer/director Mickey Keating made an interesting choice for the end of the film. I won’t spoil it, but I will mention that the head cult guy turns and smiles into the camera. Don’t involve me in this, brah! Breaking the fourth wall doesn’t work unless your Ferris Bueller or Michael Haneke!
Well, I can’t say Ritual didn’t warn me.