Adam Nevill’s 2011 novel The Ritual is a masterpiece of horror; a tense, highly-atmospheric story with a Lovecraftian-esque monster and a sense of dread so thick you can cut it with a knife. Well, at least the first half of the novel is. The second half devolves into a minefield of clichés with a thick slice of B-movie ham on the side. I won’t tell you how or why, suffice to say the whole book feels like someone took a story from Lovecraft and attached it to one of those forgettable horror paperbacks you find at the local supermarket. But now we get a movie adaptation! Oh, joy.
A group of friends—Luke, Phil, Hutch, and Dom (Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton) go on a hiking trip in Northern Sweden to celebrate the memory of their friend Robert(Paul Reid), who was killed in a robbery a few months before, and whose death Luke feels guilty about as he did nothing to intervene. When Dom suffers an injury, they decide to take a shortcut through the forest. Big mistake, because they are not alone in this forest…
The Ritual is director David Bruckner’s first solo film after directing segments in V/H/S (“Amateur Night”), Southbound (“The Accident”) and The Signal (first segment). Those three segments managed to play with a viewer’s head, instill a genuine sense of fear, and conjure up a magnificent atmosphere. The Ritual manages none of those, instead only delivering a generic horror film about four dudes confronting a monster in a forest (which conveniently serves as a metaphor for guilt on the part of Luke). While things start decently enough, The Ritual begins to lose momentum as it becomes clear the filmmakers are interested in nothing more than throwing cliché after cliché into the pot. Atmosphere is absent, tension is slack, and the scares are out to lunch. Basically, if you’ve seen one paint-by-numbers movie about people lost in the woods while being pursued by a monster, you’ve seen The Ritual.
On the plus side, I do have to give them credit for delivering some gory bits, and for delivering a damn fine looking monster. It’s not at all what I envisioned when I read the book. Also, there were several moments of unintentional humor, such as when one character is running around screaming like an idiot and runs smack into a tree. So I’ll give ‘em kudos for those bits
While The Ritual is currently receiving a mountain of praise at the moment, there’s something hollow about it as if it’s being praised simply because it’s a horror film. It’s destined to be another forgotten flick, languishing in the depths of Netflix and relegated to bargain bins in short order. Whether or not you watch it, your life will suffer no detriment. The Ritual can be streamed on Netflix.