“If the shortcut was a shortcut, it wouldn’t be called a shortcut, it would be called a route…”
I’m a big fan of Rafe Spall, or Ralph Spafe as my wife thinks he is called. He has an everyman quality that allows him to play, well, every man. He has done plenty of lighter, comedic fare but he has shown before that he can also do dark. His episode of Black Mirror with Jon Hamm was particularly chilling for example. I had full confidence that he could handle a feature length horror movie. I wasn’t disappointed.
Four mates go on an ill advised hike in the forests of Sweden in memory of their friend who was murdered. Joining a guilt wracked Rafe Spall are Robert James-Collier as the pseudo leader Hutch, Sam Troughton as the reluctant hypochondriac Dom and the easily rattled Phil, as portrayed by Arsher Ali. The four share an easy chemistry, helped along by a script that is natural and properly funny. That being said, The Ritual certainly isn’t a comedy. This is a dark and twisted fable that is nauseatingly frightening in a way that only Folk Horror can be. The imagery is powerful in its ancientness and while the story is a familiar one, it is executed viscerally and memorably.
The touchstones are obvious with classics such as The Evil Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre rubbing shoulders with British staples like The Wicker Man and The Descent. The Ritual sails a little too close to its influences occasionally but eventually it becomes a unique experience in its own right.
The ending will be divisive and can be interpreted in a number of ways but horror always works better when it is ambiguous. Uncertainty and fear of the unknown are vital ingredients in any successful horror film and The Ritual has that in spades. I have said many times that the sign of a great horror film is that it stays with you long after the credits have rolled. An exceptional horror should come screaming back to you at 3am when you are awoken by an unrecognisable dripping sound coming from your bathroom. For me, The Ritual will no doubt reappear when I am due to literally stay in a cabin in the woods for a family holiday in a few weeks time. Can’t wait…