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[TIFF Review] ‘The Ritual’ Will Make You Reconsider a Hike in the Woods

[TIFF Review] ‘The Ritual’ Will Make You Reconsider a Hike in the Woods

Just in case you needed another reason to stay out of the woods, here comes The Ritual. And while this tale of city boys lost in the forest doesn’t bring much that’s new to the table, it does have plenty of atmosphere and misery.

The Ritual is a bit of a paint by numbers horror film. Take the tragic opening and the group bonding adventure from The Descent, add the creepy tree symbols and haunted cabin from The Blair Witch Project, and sprinkle in the cult-like worship of a deity from The Wicker Man and you’ve got The Ritual.

The opening scene quickly establishes the core cast of five mates who go on an epic vacation each year. When a liquor store robbery gone bad claims the life of Robert (Paul Reid), the group reconvenes for a ceremonial trip to honor him six months later. To pay homage to their fallen friend, the college friends – defacto lead Luke (Rafe Spall), alpha male Hutch  (Robert James-Collier), out of shape Dom (Sam Troughton), and nice guy Phil (Arsher Ali) – set out on a hike in Northern Sweden. Fairly quickly there’s inclement weather and a sprained knee to contend with, and before you can say “bad decision” the quartet leave the trail behind in order to take a shortcut through the woods.

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It’s a fertile premise, even if it’s not altogether surprising when the outcome proves less than ideal. By the end of the first day they’ve discovered the mutilated corpse of an animal hung in the trees and a torrential rain drives them into an abandoned cabin where they find an effigy of a headless creature with antlers for hands. These early events are effectively staged and shot by David Bruckner, who loads the film with grim atmosphere and a mournful score. At this point it is still unclear if The Ritual is about psychological demons, creepy woodspeople or some kind of monster; and that uncertainty ensures plenty of chills.

When the group decides they must spend the night in the cabin, Joe Barton’s script, adapted from a novel by Adam Nevill, introduces a new element: hallucinatory nightmares. Not unlike a waking dream, Luke relives Robert’s death when the liquor store, overridden by foliage from the woods, appears in a flash of white light. The synthesis of two worlds is effectively unsettling, as is the five-fingered mark that has appeared on Luke’s chest when he awakens. From then on it’s a race to escape the woods before dusk arrives, which is when the nightmares invariably return and the fatal attacks by *something* begins.

Unfortunately, Barton’s script favors repetition rather than innovation, which means seemingly endless scenes of the group trudging through ominous woods, griping at each other and getting increasingly paranoid. The moody atmosphere remains, but the lack of new developments weighs the middle section of the film down. It’s not until the group has been sufficiently winnowed down and the film moves into its third act that things perk back up. Though the change in tone revives Barton’s script, by this time viewers’ attention may have waned.

The Ritual is strongest early on when it’s unclear what is going on. The camaraderie between the group is solid and believable, and unlike some other films that begin with a tragedy, the film uses Robert’s death as a major plot point, returning to it over and over again in Luke’s nightmares. The visual aesthetic of the woods is also really effective, lending the film a nightmarish quality, particularly when it is raining (the actors look legitimately cold, wet and miserable).

Aside from a repetitive middle section and a reliance on cribbed horror tropes, The Ritual will definitely make audiences reconsider any plans they have to go for a hike in the woods anytime soon.



  • The chicken man

    What true horror fan ever goes into the woods??

    • Mike tantatelli

      Right!!! No woods, no basements. I stay out of both, and I’m still alive. It can’t be coinsedence.

    • guest

      so so glad i don’t work in cabin sales ffs.

    • Saturn

      I do it all the time – to tempt fate, so I can kick it in the arse!
      Yup, I’m the guy who survives.

      And probably goes insane and goes on the rampage in the sequel.

  • Dave

    Release date??

    • Drool Bear

      All I could find is in UK & Irish Cinemas FRIDAY 13TH OCTOBER 2017. Everywhere else, dunno.
      Here’s the trailer:

      • Dave

        Thanks for replying! I dont really want to watch the trailer. I’ve only read the brief description and it seems quite good. I really went off trailers after the Alien Covenant fiasco and I never watched any IT trailers before watching the movie. Anyway, thanks again for the reply

  • Elizabeth

    I don’t need a movie to keep me from backpacking trips. I like indoor plumbing and A/C too much.

  • Wil McMullen

    Damn! I read this book and thought it was pretty good, this review sounds like the director may have taken some liberties and left some major things out. I still want see

  • Brandon

    I thought the guy on the far left was Seth Rogen

  • DirkShadows

    It’s a long shot, but this type of story always reminds me of a book whose title/author I’ve been trying to remember for years. It’s about four(?) friends who go on a trek to find an ancient shrine which will grant a wish to each one. However, in order for that to happen, one member has to be sacrificed. I think there was talk of it being optioned as a film about ten years ago.

  • Micah Unice

    I really enjoyed the book until its blandly routine ending. I hope Barton had the good sense to tweak it.

  • CalUni

    Not loving the trailer. They don’t seem like the nicest bunch of fellows so kill em all ; )

  • Mehedi Hasan

    Right!!! No woods, no basements. I stay out of both, and I’m still alive. It can’t be coinsedence.

  • Boonraiser

    Oh, I just noticed the skull rating system back. I would agree with this review. Was quite a neat version of the lost in the woods premise.

  • I might see this but after all this praise towards “Blair witch” I am a bit reluctant. Still I think the woods can be a fantastic setting for some terrific atmosphere

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