Saturday, 21 October 2017

Review: The Ritual

The Ritual
Cert: 15 / 94 mins / Dir. David Bruckner / Trailer

Okay, first-off? No off-license has bottles of vodka just out on an open shelf like that. Spirits are either behind the counter or security-tagged. End of. Right. Glad we got that out of the way.

Just in time for Hallow'een, director David Bruckner and screenwriter Joe Barton bring us The Ritual, adapted from Adam Nevill's 2011 novel of the same name. It's the story of four friends on a hiking holiday in northern Sweden and who find themselves taking a shortcut through a particularly foreboding forest. In short order, the group become aware that they're being stalked, and with nightmares and hallucinations thrown into the mix, the inhuman identity of the hunter slowly reveals itself…

Now by this point you may well be thinking 'yeah, think I've seen that thanks'. And, yes - you have. Probably on several occasions like myself. But the best part is that The Ritual works in spite of its strict adherence to the classic horror structure, perhaps even because of it. The film doesn't try to subvert the genre, it just celebrates everything it can be, whilst wisely discarding the elements which would normally have a viewer rolling their eyes. Where in the past we've had groups of brash teenagers venturing unwisely into the woods, Bruckner brings us four British, 30-something men. Young enough to be on a hiking holiday, old enough to be grumpy about it; cynical enough to complain every step of the way, sincere enough to be walking in memory of their recently deceased friend, in the first place.

The bone-headed decisions the group make aren't the thoughtless whimsies of people with youthful invulnerability, but more what happens when you're cold, tired and really want to get back to the lodge before last orders*1. Moments which would be flippant jump-scares in any other movie are teased out here to create a genuine sense of unease. And while the supernatural element of any story will always be prone to 'well that wouldn't happen' analysis by the audience, the lead character's PTSD over his friend's death throws the very nature of reality into disarray.

Barton's screenplay is sharp, bickering and uses constant gallows-humour with mid-level profanity as punctuation. Cinematographer Andrew Shulkind runs a very quiet camera in the daylight sequences, which turns into 25-panic-attacks-per-second as soon as night falls (which happens more than once in this movie). The central cast of Rafe Spall, Rob James-Collier, Sam Troughton and Arsher Ali are on very strong form, making barely likeable characters nonetheless compelling, and taking the script seriously despite the obvious and frequent jokes. The whole thing tiptoes on the edge of silliness in its final act, but it's a credit to everyone involved that the story manages to stay on the right side of outlandishness. And in a nod to its original format, the final shot is definitely a 'book ending' rather than a 'cinema' one.

The Ritual isn't exactly scary, but it's tense and arduous for all the right reasons. Especially impressive given how easily it could have been a crap take on exactly the same story*2 (as many other films have been). The film's not revolutionary in any way - but when one is made this well, it doesn't have to be…

Question for those who have seen it: Did I miss the moment when Luke puts his trousers back on in time for the final scene? I don't remember that happening, but evidently it did.

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Sightseers, The VVitch, Rare Exports, An American Werewolf in London.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
It's very much a 'Saturday night in' type movie, but there's no harm in making it a Saturday night-out.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Without having read the source-novel I'd say so, yes.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Probably not in the cast's case, but since this is a genre-piece it plays by its own rules, anyway.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This film stars Robert James-Collier, who was in last year's A Christmas Star, which was narrated by one Liam 'Qui-Gon' Neeson.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Although bear in mind they're in Sweden, a country where alcohol is literally prohibitively priced. The guys are looking at the thick-end of a tenner just for one pint. Be interested to see how willing they are to pour one out for their mate then[ BACK ]

*2 And fair play to the film-makers here - as I recall at one point there's a creepy, scratchy old gramophone and it's not playing The Teddy Bear's Picnic like it would be in a Blumhouse movie… [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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